Alabama defeats Vanderbilt in SEC tourney

Published 8:42 pm Thursday, March 12, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. — Alonzo Gee and Alabama are heating up at the right time.

Gee scored 25 points and the Crimson Tide went 12-for-12 from the foul line in the final 1:03 to hold off Vanderbilt 82-75 Thursday night in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

With victories in five of their past six games under interim coach Philip Pearson, the Crimson Tide (18-13) are one of the hottest teams in the league. Gee is on fire, too, averaging 18.6 points per game over the stretch.

“I think we’re just playing together as a team, executing our offense, rebounding and just defending a lot better than we did in the past,” Gee said.

Mikhail Torrance made all eight of his free throws and scored 20 for Alabama, which made 25 of 28 free throws to outscore Vanderbilt (19-12) by 12 from the foul line. JaMychal Green had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

“We talked in terms of this being our championship game … and prepared for it,” Pearson said. “Certainly for us, it’s a one-game season at this point.”

Next up is SEC East co-champion Tennessee (19-11) in Friday’s quarterfinals at the St. Pete Times Forum.

“Easy to scout,” Pearson said. “Hard to beat.”

But the Crimson Tide did just that in the regular-season finale, topping the Volunteers 70-67 on Anthony Brock’s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer in Knoxville.

Gee bounced back from a poor shooting night (4-for-17, nine points) against Tennessee last Sunday to go 9-for-12 from the field and 7-for-8 from the foul line. The Crimson Tide built a 16-point lead before Brad Tinsley and Jeffery Taylor led a late surge that helped Vanderbilt trim its deficit to five in the final minute.

Tinsley led the Commodores with 20 points and Taylor added 17. Leading scorer A.J. Ogilvy was held without a field goal until the final minute and finished with eight points.

“We tried to come back a couple of times, but every time it seemed like they would get a bucket,” Taylor said. “They had a lot of back-breakers.”

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings felt his team entered the tournament playing its best basketball of the season. The Commodores won three straight down the stretch, including a 13-point win over South Carolina at home and an eight-point road win over conference regular-season champion LSU.

But for the second straight March trip to Tampa, Vanderbilt fizzled at the St. Pete Times Forum, where Siena — a No. 13 seed — ousted the fourth-seeded Commodores in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Alabama rebounded from a tough stretch following the resignation of former coach Mark Gottfried to gain momentum heading into a rematch of the Feb. 5 meeting won by Vanderbilt 79-74 in Nashville.

“They’re playing with more confidence. They’re playing what seems like more purpose,” Stallings said. “We played them a couple of games after they made the coaching change, and I think they were in a little bit of a state of disarray maybe.”

Gee scored 11 points and Alabama led by as many as 12 before George Drake keyed an 11-1 burst that trimmed Vanderbilt’s deficit to 30-28. Alabama led 36-30 at the half, and the Commodores had to feel fortunate to be that close, considering Ogilvy was 0-for-2 from the field and had two points.

Things didn’t get any easier after the break for the 6-foot-11 sophomore from Sydney, Australia. The only shot Ogilvy took in the first nine minutes of the second half was blocked, and he was 0-for-4 before he finally made a layup for his first field goal with 55.9 seconds to go.

The basket pulled Vanderbilt to within 70-63, but Alabama retained its poise. Even more importantly, the Crimson Tide continued to make free throws. Torrance and Anthony Brock went to the line and calmly converted — Torrance was 8-for-8 and Brock 4-for-4 — to close out the game.

Ogilvy finished 2-for-7 and had eight rebounds and six assists. The team’s second-leading scorer, Jermaine Beal, had a tough night offensively, too, scoring five points on 2-for-11 shooting.

Tinsley, Taylor and Drake, who scored 14, took up the slack. The trio combined for eight of Vanderbilt’s 10 3-pointers.

“We tried to fight back,” Taylor said, “but it just wasn’t our night.”