NEW ORLEANS- The second game of the day in the SEC featured the 5th seeded Alabama Crimson Tide and the 4th seeded Florida Gators with the winner advancing to Saturday’s semifinal against Kentucky. In the only prior meeting between these two, Florida dominated the first five minutes of the second half going on a 16-0 helping the Gators’ record a 61-52 victory in Tuscaloosa. Alabama was without the services of starting forward JaMychal Green which wouldn’t be the case on Friday afternoon. However, Green’s 22 points and 10 rebounds were not enough, as the Gators’ held off a late second half Alabama run to beat the Tide’ 66-63.
In the game’s first 10 minutes, Florida methodically took a 15-9 lead with the help of two Bradley Beal triples and 5 Erik Murphy points. Alabama would answer with an 8-2 run topped by a Trevor Releford lay-up that tied the score at 17-17 with 5:25 to play in the half. The final 5 minutes of the half was a defensive struggle for both teams. Alabama was only able to muster 2 field goals and committed 3 turnovers. Florida’s Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal each hit a triple to go along with 3 Beal free-throws to help the Gators’ take a 26-24 lead into the locker room.
To begin the second half, Alabama quickly tied the game after Murphy missed a three leading into a long rebound grabbed by Andrew Steele; Steele pushed the ball up the court and found a trailing Green for the easy jam quickly giving the Tide momentum. With the scored tied at 28-28, senior Erving Walker gave the Gators’ a spark. Walker would hit consecutive baskets before finding Scottie Wilbekin in the corner for a trifecta. Walker capped off the 10-2 run with a deep bomb of his own on Florida’s next possession giving the Gators’ a 38-30 lead with 15:16 left in the game. Before the 12 minute official timeout, Florida was able to push the lead to 12 after a Boynton three and Murphy free-throws, but the lead was quickly chiseled back to 45-36 after a Releford triple.
With the Gators’ leading by 9, Alabama went on an 8-0 run with Trevor Lacey and JaMychal Green each scoring a pair of field goals cutting the Florida lead to 47-46 with 7:59 to go. With 6:01 left, Nick Jacobs tied the game at 51-51, but Alabama soon behind by six after fouling Boynton and Wilbekin on three-point attempts. Boynton converted on his free-throws and Wilbekin hit his triple but missed on the four-point-play opportunity. Kenny Boynton later hit a triple to stretch the lead to 64-57 with 2:01 left. Green gave Alabama one last run at victory by converting two free throws and finding Trevor Lacey for three bringing the Tide’ to within two. After a Walker turnover, Green had an opportunity to tie the game at the free throw line with 21 seconds left. Green missed on his second free throw which was rebounded by Florida. Boynton would get fouled and hit his two free-throws to push the Gators’ lead to 66-63 with 9.8 seconds left. Lacey would got a descent look from three but came up short, as the Alabama fell to Florida 66-63.
Florida had three players in double figures with Beal leading the way with 16 points; Beal also had 5 dimes and 7 rebounds. Erik Murphy had a good game with 15 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Boynton was able to pitch in with 14 points of his own and hit key free throws down the stretch. Florida was able to hit 10 three-pointers and was efficient on offense with 15 assists to just 5 turnovers.
Alabama had three players of its own in double figures with Green doing the most of the damage. Green finished the game with a double-double, 22 points and 10 rebounds. Releford was Alabama’s second leading scorer with 12 points followed by Lacey’s 11 off the bench. Alabama dominated the boards in the second half and was able to get some easy buckets off of long defensive rebounds.
Florida now focuses its attention to top-ranked Kentucky. Kentucky handled the Gators pretty easily in the first two meetings and will be expecting Florida’s best shot on Saturday. Last year, Kentucky and Florida met in the SEC Championship game, a game won by Kentucky 65-54. This time around, the winner will head to the championship game on Selection Sunday.