NASHVILLE, Tenn.—It was déjà vu.
Alabama relinquished a 10-point lead in the second half of Saturday’s SEC Championship semifinal game as Florida, led by senior Kenny Boynton, went on a 15-0 run to beat the Crimson Tide 61-51 and secure a spot in the conference finals Sunday.
The game pretty much followed the same script as the one from the teams’ regular season meeting on March 2. The Tide led by eight points with 12 minutes to go, their biggest edge of the game, but Florida went on a run and won, 64-52.
And now, the Tide’s post-season fate is unknown. Hopes of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large big are likely quashed, but there’s still a chance for a spot in the NIT.
But before Florida (26-6) ran away with the lead, Alabama (21-12) caused problems. The teams traded buckets in the first half, the lead changing seven times. The Tide took a 28-25 lead at the break, and had held the Gators to 40.7 percent shooting (11-27) and 12.5 percent from 3-point range (1-8). Bama also held a 16-11 rebounding edge.
Alabama’s control of the perimeter and aggressiveness on the boards were key.
The Tide picked up right where they left off in the second half. Trevor Releford hit two free throws to extend the lead to 37-27 with 16:05 to go. But then, Boynton caught fire, scoring nine points on a 15-0 Florida run.
“He just gave them a spark and they just kept building on it,” Releford said.
Alabama’s scoring drought finally ended after nearly six minutes when Trevor Lacey hit a three. The Tide then began to chip away the deficit and get within four points at the 7:03 mark. But that’s as close as they would get.
“That run probably tells the story of the game,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “Their defense really turned it up and allowed them to get out in transition and get some baskets and, you know, we were able to fight back and cut into it a little bit but didn’t have enough today to finish it.”
In the post-game news conference, Lacey was asked if the team realized that they were practically reliving the March 2 game while Florida was on its second half run.
“Yes,” he said. “I was aware. Me and Andrew [Steele] was talking about it on the bench. When we went up 10, we were talking we need to keep what we were doing, keep it on them, keep attacking them and just trying to make plays and just trying not to let what happened happen.”
Alabama kept the game close for a solid 30 minutes, just like it did in the last matchup. But it was a 40-minute game.
The Tide was able to hold Erik Murphy, who scored 27 points against LSU Friday, to six. The Gators also couldn’t get anything going from the perimeter, making just 3 of 17 attempts.
But ultimately, the Tide didn’t have an answer for Boynton, who scored all 16 of his points in the second half.
Grant was asked what could have been done to stop a run like that, especially when led by one guy.
“If I had that answer, we would have done it,” he said.
Grant, who used to be an assistant under Florida coach Billy Donovan, is now 0-6 against his mentor.
Now Alabama awaits its post-season fate, something that the players weren’t in the mood to discuss after this loss.
“Our goal this week was to come win the SEC Championship,” Lacey said. “We just have to wait and find out tomorrow if we did enough or not.”
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