NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Following up its Southeastern Conference regular-season title, No. 6 Alabama basketball completed its domination of the conference on Sunday afternoon with a 80-79 victory over LSU in the SEC tournament championship game.
The SEC tournament title is the first for the Crimson Tide since 1991 and the seventh in program history.
“I just wanted to reiterate how excited I am for our players,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said after the game. “They deserved it. They’ve played the right way. They’ve bought into what we’re trying to get them to do. That’s a good team — they’ve got a lot of talent on LSU’s team. They came ready to go today.”
Alabama opened the first half on an 8-0 run powered by a layup and a three-pointer by junior guard Keon Ellis, who started in place of the injured Josh Primo. LSU soon caught back up thanks to Javonte Smart, whose back-to-back deep threes put the Tigers on top 15-13 at the 13:40 mark.
The Crimson Tide regained the lead with a three-pointer by senior forward Alex Reese, leading by as much as five points until a 7-0 run by LSU put the Tigers back on top once again.
With 1:23 left in the first half and LSU leading by four, Alabama composed a 7-0 run of its own propelled by a three-pointer and a layup by sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly off the bench to give the Crimson Tide a 40-37 lead at the half.
“I feel like we came out more prepared this game,” senior wing Herbert Jones said after the game’s conclusion. “We didn’t sustain the same type of energy we started out the game with — we had a couple of defensive lapses but I’m just so proud of the guys for continuing to fight the entire game no matter what happened.”
Through the first 20 minutes, Alabama shot 41-percent from the floor and was 6-of-18 from beyond the three-point line. For LSU, the Tigers shot 37-percent from the floor and were 4-of-12 from beyond the arc.
Quinerly finished the first half leading the team in points with 10, while Jones and redshirt-freshman forward Juwan Gary tied for the team lead in rebounds with five apiece.
Both teams came out of the locker room after the break with physical basketball on the mind and it showed on the court. Neither team missed a beat from the first half, knocking down buckets and shoving each other on the court.
LSU regained the lead at the 18:23 mark after guard Aundre Hyatt scored the first six points of the half for the Tigers. The lead would change six times over the first eight minutes of the half, with Alabama leading 56-52 at the 11:48 mark.
Once again, LSU was not finished. A 6-0 run by the Tigers over a 28-second span consisting of back-to-back threes by Smart put LSU back on top 58-56 with 10:41 left. While it was clear from the beginning that both teams were incredibly hungry to win the title, it was this moment that the physicality dial turned all the way up to 10 in the final minutes.
“LSU went on a run and we just didn’t go away,” Jones said. “We kept responding.”
Back-to-back threes by Crimson Tide sophomore guard Jaden Shackelford put Alabama back on top 62-60 with 8:36 to go. Following a layup by Gary, LSU was forced to call a timeout to prevent Alabama from gaining too much momentum.
Another three by Shackelford with 6:54 to go in the game sent a clear signal: LSU’s perimeter defense was tiring out. In the first 33 minutes of the game, Alabama’s bench was outscoring LSU’s 26-0. While the Crimson Tide had relied heavily on the bench for offensive production all season, the Tigers had relied on its starters.
Nevertheless, the Tigers kept clawing back and keeping the game close. Leading into the final media timeout, Alabama held just a 71-69 lead. A dunk by Gary off of an alley-oop pass from Quinerly changed the momentum in the Crimson Tide’s favor every so slightly, but with 3:53 to go it was still anyone’s ball game.
A three-pointer by Ellis immediately following the final media timeout and a dunk by Jones had every Alabama fan in the building on their feet. Following a three by Smart, the Crimson Tide maintained a two-point lead with just over two minutes left in the game.
Another three-point basket by Smart with just over a minute left put the Tigers on top. The Crimson Tide seemingly just couldn’t put the game away. With 50 second to go, Shackelford made a layup to put Alabama up by one.
Watford made another layup with 27.6 second to go and was fouled on the way up for the and-one. Watford stepped up to the line but missed his free throw. Jones took the rebound and drove the ball all the way down the court and finished it off with a layup. Alabama led 80-79 with just 19.8 seconds left to play.
On the LSU inbound at its own end, LSU guard Trendon Watford — who had an excellent game with 30 points — missed a final three-point shot attempt. The ball was deflected up towards the basket, but the clock expired as it fell to the court and the crowd erupted as the crimson and white confetti rained down in Bridgestone Arena.
“It was fitting that it came down to their offense and our defense at the end to see who was going to win the game,” Oats said. “I thought our defense came through. Keon Ellis had a huge block, guarded the underneath out-of-bounds play well, forced them to take a tough one. I wish we’d have gotten the first rebound — we didn’t — they got it. Fortunate enough that they missed the put-back and came out of here with a tight win.”
Shackelford led Alabama in points with 21 in the game. Ellis and Quinerly tied for second on the team with 14 points apiece.
With his efforts through all three games, Quinerly was named a member of the SEC All-Tournament team. Following Sunday’s game, Quinerly was also named the tournament’s most valuable player.
The headline, however, was Jones. In 34 minutes on the court, Jones recorded his second double-double of the SEC tournament with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Jones also accounted for six assists, four blocks and a steal. He was also named a member of the All-Tournament team.
The game was a hard-fought effort from both sides: the definition of a March classic. Alabama shot 43 percent from the floor compared to LSU’s 41 percent. From beyond the arc, the Crimson Tide shot 33 percent and the Tigers 37 percent.
Alabama turned the ball over just nine times and LSU five. The Crimson Tide out-rebounded the Tigers 50-43 in one of Alabama’s best performances on the glass this season. Off the bench, the Crimson Tide dominated with 28 points. The Tigers had none.
Alabama basketball will now wait until 5 p.m. CT for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show (CBS), where it will find who, when and where it will be playing in the first round of next weekend’s first round of the NCAA tournament.
“Happy for the guys,” Oats said. “We’ll get our NCAA tournament matchup here in a couple of hours and head up to Indy.”
This story will be updated with video.