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By Chris DePew
March 9, 2018
No. 9 Alabama held top-seeded Auburn without a field goal for the first 10 minutes of the second half and advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals for a second consecutive year with an 81-63 blowout in St. Louis.
What did we learn today?: The Crimson Tide will make its first NCAA Tournament since 2012. Alabama might have already done enough to end the drought entering Friday, but a second-half demolition of the SEC regular season champions means that Bama’s weekend will now be about trying to improve seeding and maybe even winning its first conference tournament in 27 years.
After looking tired in the first half against the rested Tigers, Bama kicked into another gear after the break. Collin Sexton made a couple of confidence-building 3-pointers that seemed to perk up his teammates and soon enough Auburn’s cold spell turned into a complete reversal of effort and momentum that resulted in a 20-1 Alabama scoring run. Auburn spent a lot of time this week thumping its chest about disrespect in the coaches All-SEC voting and how that would fuel their run at the Scottrade Center. But the most effort anyone in orange and blue showed after the half was Bruce Pearl going out of his way to bump into Bama’s strength coach and then put on a show of bravado in front of a couple of security guards as he slowly backpedaled to his locker room.
What was the best part of the game?: Flipping the script on rebounds. Bama was getting killed on the glass early on against undersized Auburn, a painful callback to last month’s one-sided loss on the Plains. The Tigers were plus-four in rebounding in the first half – and then watched the Tide outrebound them 27-12 over the final 20 minutes. Auburn shot under 40 percent even while scoring 41 points in the first half, so once Bama tightened down on getting to loose balls it cut off the Tigers’ scoring lifeline. Braxton Key came off the bench to grab 10 rebounds, while Sexton and Dazon Ingram added seven each. Ingram had an all-around great day with 14 points and five assists as well.
Who was the star?: Your next-door neighbor who only follows football knows about him. Your cousin up North who couldn’t find Tuscaloosa on a map knows about him. After two days of rampaging through St. Louis, virtually the whole sports world now knows about Sexton. After going 6-for-8 from 3-point range (versus 2-for-14 for his teammates), he finished with 31 points and now sits as the program’s all-time freshman scoring leader.
What were the biggest concerns?: Donta Hall had a solid first half that kept Bama within striking distance, but the rest of the postseason turns on how and whether he can recover from a nasty spill onto the floor over the shoulder of an Auburn player. Hall appeared to land on his neck or shoulder blade and walked off under his own power to the locker room, his day finished after 22 minutes of action. Daniel Giddens and Alex Reese sustained first-half injuries and were declared available to return but neither came back in the game. Galin Smith had another encouraging game in his second consecutive start, but if he is the lone center available the Tide is likely in for a long day against Kentucky.
What’s next?: The fourth-seeded Wildcats have won all six meetings against Avery Johnson, including the last two years in this tournament. The next chance to take down Big Blue comes Saturday at noon on ESPN.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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