A few minutes into the second half, Alabama had extended its 36-22 halftime lead to 16 points against Tennessee in Knoxville, and almost everyone would have thought the Crimson Tide had a sure victory. Within the next 10 minutes, almost everyone knew that Tennessee was going to come back for the victory, and they were right.
Alabama hoped to get another Southeastern Conference road victory and go into the SEC Tournament in Nashville on a high note Saturday. Instead, after scoring only 18 second half points, the Crimson Tide has the misery of losing a 59-54 decision to the Vols in the final regular season game of the year.
There wasn’t much on the line since Alabama had already assured itself of a winning SEC record and also had assured itself of not being in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament prior to Saturday. Additionally, Bama knew that it could not go up or down from its No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament. Still, there was no reason to expect the second half collapse against Tennessee.
Although some believe the loss may have put an NIT bid in jeopardy, that should draw nothing more than a “So what?” Success for Alabama next season depends more on incoming players than it does on returning players having a few more practices and one or more meaningless game(s).
Alabama finished regular season play with a 17-13 record and a 10-8 SEC mark. The Tide will begin SEC Tournament play on Thursday when it takes on the winner between the No. 12 and No. 13 seeds, who play as part of the league’s bottom four on Wednesday. The Thursday game will tip at approximately 2:30 p.m. CST.
In Knoxville, Bama had two players finish in double figures, as junior Riley Norris and freshman Braxton Key registered 13 and 12 points, respectively. Norris scored all his points in the first half. Sophomore Donta Hall led the Crimson Tide in rebounding with seven.
Alabama was hitting on all cylinders in the first half, as hot shooting helped stake the Tide to a 14-point halftime lead, 36-22. Alabama used an 18-5 run in the opening stanza to take an 11-point lead, 21-10, at the midway point of the first half.
Alabama shot an impressive 57 per cent (13-of-23) from the field in the first 20 minutes of play, compared to Tennessee’s 20 per cent (6-of-30) from the floor. The Tide connected on 78 per cent (7-of-9) from behind the three-point line, while limiting the Volunteers to just eight per cent (1-of-12) beyond the arc. Alabama’s bench outscored Tennessee’s bench by a 23-3 margin, 13 of those 23 by Norris.
Alabama would go on to lead by as many as 16 points, 40-24, early in the second half before Tennessee began its comeback.
The Vols (16-15, 8-10) used an 8-4 spurt through the first five minutes of the second half to trim Alabama’s lead to 40-30 and would extend it to a 20-8 run over a span of 4:32 to cut the Tide’s lead to two points, 44-42, at the midway point of the second half. Tennessee would eventually take the lead, 48-47, with 8:35 on the clock.
Alabama responded with six straight points to move ahead, 53-48, with 4:30 left to play, but the Vols connecgted on back-to-back three-pointers to retake the lead at 54-53 with 1:48 to play. Those gtwo treys were part of an 11-1 run by UT down the stretch.
Alabama shot 25 per cent (6-of-24) from the field in the second half, while shooting 13 per cent (1-of-8) from behind the three-point line. In contrast, Tennessee shot 45 per cent (13-of-29) from the field in the second half, including 55 per cent (6-of-11) on three-pointers.
The Tide shot 40 per cent (19-of-47) from the field in the 40 minute contest, and connected on 47 per cent (8-of-17) from three-point land. The Volunteers outrebounded Alabama 40-32, which marked just the third time in SEC play and sixth time this year the Tide lost the battle of the boards.
The margin of victory came at the free throw line with Tennessee hitting 14-20 and Alabama 8-13.
Tennessee was led by freshman Grant Williams, who finished with game highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds.