Tide Opens SEC Tourney With Win

TAMPA, Fla. --Tournament games are often won by the team executing offense and completely nullifying the opponent's best offensive threats. Chalk up two in the plus column for keys to victory as Alabama (18-13) defeated fifth-seeded eastern division opponent Vanderbilt (19-12), 82-75 in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday night.

The Alabama trio of Alonzo Gee, JaMychal Green and Mikhail Torrance assaulted the Vanderbilt defense by scoring 58 points while limiting the Vanderbilt Commodores two leading scorers, A. J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal, to a paltry 13 points combined.

Alabama made a concerted effort to attack the goal according to Interim Coach Philip Pearson and it did not go unnoticed by Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings. "We just failed to get out properly on some of their ball screens and they were able to turn the corner. We went zone, and they beat us on penetration from the side a couple of times. So it really didn't matter what we did. We just didn't guard the ball very well."

Mikhail Torrance played an outstanding floor game while scoring 20 points on 6 for 12 shooting in addition to a perfect 8 for 8 from the free throw line. Whether he was driving the lane for layups or passing to teammates, his penetration contributed to the 36 points in the paint for Alabama. "Their penetration either led to offensive rebound if they missed the shot or it led to drop-offs for dunks and lay-ups. So we just weren't good enough on the defensive end to sustain anything and to get enough stops to really get us back in the game," said Stallings.

Tied 2-2 at the 18:56 mark of the first half, Alabama never trailed and led by as many as sixteen points three times in the second half. Any threat made by the Commodores was negated as the Tide continued to score at will from the paint. "And I thought we had a little bit of a lull there maybe midway through the half. We didn't transition. Defense became an issue. They got some easy baskets. Cut into our lead a little bit," said Pearson. "In the half we talked, we've been in that position a couple of times. Up 6 or 8 or 10. And I thought the key to the game was how we'd respond to the first three, four, five minutes of the second half. And I thought our guys did a great job there. Looked up, and we had gotten it to 10 and 14 one time. I thought that was a real key."

Alabama's was outstanding at the free throw line especially in the last 1:03 of the game as Torrance's eight consecutive free throws combined with Brock's four combined to hit 12 straight. "Looking at the stat sheet we did a great job at the foul line," commented Pearson on the 25 for 28 results as a team from the charity stripe.

Alabama shot 47.5 % for the game on 28 for 59 while holding Vanderbilt to 40.0% on 26 for 65. Green recorded another double-double as he scored 13 points and led the Tide with 10 rebounds which contributed to the 41 to 33 edge. "I thought our rebounding was key all throughout the game," emphasized Pearson. Gee led the team scoring twenty-five points on 9 for 12 shooting along with 7 for 8 from the free throw line.

"Well, obviously we're excited to get the win and have a chance to move on in the tournament. We talked in terms about this being our championship game with Vanderbilt and prepared for it. Certainly for us it's a one-game season at this point. I was very impressed with the way our players came out to begin the game. Thought we got off to a good start. But it was a good win for us, and happy to have a chance to play Tennessee," said Pearson.

Alabama's Crimson Tide advances to the quarter-final round against the SEC eastern division co-champion Tennessee Friday at 6:30 p.m. CDT at Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum to be televised by the Raycom Sports Network. Alabama and Tennessee played in Knoxville Sunday in the final game of regular season play. The Tide took a three-point win on Anthony Brock's sensational buzzer-beating launch. Tennessee Head Coach Bruce Pearl personally scouted the game from midcourt Thursday night.

Melvin Cheatum, an All-SEC forward for Alabama, 1987-91, was honored at halftime as an SEC Legend. Each year at the SEC Tournament a former player from each school is on hand and recognized for his past achievements.

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