NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A strong second-half effort, including a 7-0 run over the final minutes and a half, proved just enough to keep Alabama’s NCAA hopes on life support.
The 10th-seeded Crimson Tide rallied from 14 points down at halftime to knock off seventh-seeded Ole Miss 62-57 on Thursday night in their SEC tournament second-round matchup at Bridgestone Arena.
Alabama (18-14, 8-10 SEC) advances to the SEC quarterfinals to take on second-seeded and No. 5-ranked Kentucky (26-5, 15-3 SEC) at 6 p.m. Friday night.
Junior wing Tevin Mack led the Tide with 21 points and six rebounds while freshman guard Kira Lewis and sophomore forward Galin Smith added 13 and 11 points, respectively. Senior center Donta Hall had 7 points and a team-high 15 rebounds as Alabama dominated the glass 50-30, including a 31-14 rebounding advantage in the second half alone.
Here are three takeaways:
1. Lineup shakeup
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson opened SEC tournament play with a bit of a shakeup, inserting graduate senior Riley Norris into the starting lineup for the first time this season.
That alone may have been a move to infuse some leadership into the starting five, but Johnson didn’t stop there, also adding sophomore forward Galin Smith — who hasn’t started since November — and sophomore wing Herbert Jones, who’s started just once over the final six games of the regular season.
Those three joined senior center Donta Hall and freshman point guard Kira Lewis Jr., the only players to start every game this season.
It didn’t do much to spark the Tide offense, which opened just 3-of-15 from the floor including a 0-of-7 shooting drought over the game’s first five minutes.
Both Jones and Norris opened 0-of-2 from the floor in the first half, with junior wing Tevin Mack replacing Norris to start the second half, while Lewis was just 1-of-5 shooting with two missed 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes of action.
Meanwhile, Hall and Smith combined to shoot 5-of-7 from the floor for 10 points and 7 rebounds, accounting for 45 percent of Alabama’s first-half shooting effort (11-of-28) and 37 percent of its rebounding (19 boards) to begin the game.
2. Needed spark
Earning the second-half start after getting benched for Norris to begin the game, sharpshooting Alabama wing Tevin Mack came out firing to start the second half.
Mack scored 10 points during the opening five minutes of the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers that were part of a 20-3 run that gave the Tide its first lead of the game at 44-43 with 13:14 left on the heels of a 13-0 run.
Mack finished with a team-high 21 points, including 13 in the second half, on 8-of-13 shooting, while Lewis added 11 of his 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the second half Thursday night.
Lewis and Mack connected for a baseline layup with 3:41 remaining to end a 0-of-5 shooting drought.
Lewis struck again with a layup to tie the game at 57-all with 1:34 left coming out of a timeout and then came through with an interception on the other end that led to a putback dunk by John Petty to go up 59-57 entering the final minute in regulation.
3. Strong rebounding
After a disappointing effort on the boards in the first half, only managing to outrebound the third-worst rebounding team in the SEC 19-16, Alabama certainly picked it up in the second half.
The Crimson Tide dominated the backboards in the second half, outrebounding Ole Miss 31-14, including 12-3 on the offensive end for a 23-2 advantage in second-chance points for the game.