As it turned out, six free throws by Matt Walsh in the final 17 seconds proved the margin of victory as the Tide was forced to foul. But the game was probably lost at about the 1:10 mark when the Tide allowed a breakaway layup. An Alabama attempt at a tying three-pointer was rebounded by the Gators and run out for a five-point lead. The Tide cut it to three points a couple of times after that, but never with the ball and a chance to tie.
Alabama now returns to Tuscaloosa to await its NCAA Tournament seeding and destination. Florida will go into the SEC Tournament championship game against the winner of the Kentucky-LSU contest. The finalists are almost certain to have no worse than a four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Alabama had been projected as a four seed before losing to Florida, but may fall a bit.
Alabama is now 24-7 overall while Florida improved to 22-7.
It was the second consecutive year that Florida has eliminated Bama from the SEC Tournament. In regular season play this year Alabama suffered one of the worst losses in its history, a 31-point setback.
Florida teams under Coach Billy Donovan have generally been considered under-achieving squads of superstars, but against Alabama the Gators are Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA rolled into one.
In that loss in Gainesville a over a month ago, the Bama problem was rebounding. The Gators had a 46-23 advantage in rebounding in that game, including grabbing 19 offensive rebounds. The Crimson Tide remedied that weakness Saturday, winning the battle of the boards, 43-33.
The problem is Alabama–one of the best shooting teams in the SEC–couldn't shoot. And the Tide, which lit up Ole Miss from three-point range in winning Friday, was particularly bad from behind the arc, only 3-19, which is 15.8 per cent, the Tide's worst performance on treys this season. Bama hit only 38.1 per cent from the field. Although Alabama had one more field goal than Florida, the Gators had more points from the field on the basis of hitting eight three-pointers in 20 tries. Florida shot 41 per cent from the field and 40 per cent on treys. That Gators also hit more free throws, 14-20 to Bama's 11-15.
Kennedy Winston led Bama with 19 points, but had only two points in the first half. He was only 1-8 on three-point attempts. When he hit that trey with 17:48 to play in the game it was Bama's first after eight misses. Earnest Shelton, who had tied an SEC Tournament and Alabama team record with eight three-pointers against Ole Miss, was 0-4 from the arc and 3-11 overall against Florida. Shelton played only 27 minutes after suffering ankle and hip injuries. Jermareo Davidson, who has been in about a month-long slump, had good numbers with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Jean Felix had 11 points off the bench.
Meanwhile, Alabama's inside players couldn't stop the Gators' David Lee. Lee finished with 20 points, including a tough layup over Davidson that gave the Gators a five-point lead with 26 seconds to play. Florida got 17 from Walsh, 13 from Anthony Roberson and 10 from Corey Brewer.
Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried gave credit to Lee for making shots over "tough defense." Gottfried said the Tide elected not to try to double down on Lee because the Gators have such good perimeter shooters in Walsh and Roberson.
Gottfried was not happy with Alabama's start to the game. The Gators hit six of their first eight shots–four of them three-pointers–and pulled out to a 16-8 lead. Florida had a 27-20 lead at halftime. "I like how we competed in the second half," Bama's coach said. "In the first half we were a little tentative. In the second half we were a lot more competitive. We had a lot more energy. We went to the basket. For some reason we didn't have that sense of urgency in the first half."
The 20 first half points was the lowest output in an opening half for Bama in any game this year. The Tide's previous low was 23 points in losses at Florida and Wisconsin. But a disturbing trend is that Alabama has now scored fewer than 30 points in the first half of the last three games after being held under 30 in the first half only five times in the first 28 games of the season.
Alabama scored 42 second half points, one more than the Gators.
Gottfried added, "Now we'll get ready for the NCAA Tournament." NCAA selections will be announced Sunday afternoon. Last year Alabama was eliminated in the second round of the SEC Tournament, but went to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament before finally being eliminated by eventual national champion Connecticut.
Alabama scored only 20 first half points, but trailed by only 27-20. Bama had a chance for the last shot in the first half, but the normal Crimson Tide strategy has not been successful this year and wasn't successful Saturday. Bama waits until about 10 seconds remains and begins a move. Usually there is a poor shot or no shot. Saturday the Tide did not get a shot off.
Florida led almost the entire game. Bama had brief leads of 2-0 and 4-3, then did not lead again until a 36-35 advantage with 13:09 to play. Florida regained the lead a couple of minutes later and held on until the end.
Alabama had only six assists and committed 13 turnovers, but the Gators scored only five points off those turnovers. Florida had 13 assists and only eight turnovers, with Bama scoring four points off the Gators' miscues. Alabama out-scored Florida in the paint, 16-6, and had eight second-chance points to only three for the Gators.