KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Levi Randolph scored 15 points Friday as No. 4 seed Alabama defeated No. 5 seed Tennessee 58-48 in a Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinal between two teams seeking to improve their postseason credentials.
Alabama (21-11) advanced to a Saturday semifinal against No. 13 Florida, the tournament’s top seed. Florida (25-6) trounced LSU 80-58 in its quarterfinal.
This game was considered one of the most intriguing of the day because both teams are considered to be on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Tennessee and Alabama had split two close regular-season meetings, with Alabama winning 68-65 at Tuscaloosa on Jan. 12 and the Vols surviving 54-53 in the Jan. 26 rematch at Knoxville. This game followed a similar pattern, as neither team pulled ahead by more than five points in a first half that featured three ties and four lead changes.
Alabama pulled away in the second half by wearing Tennessee down with its pressure defense.
Tennessee (20-12) shot 32.1 percent (18 of 56) overall, 50 percent (7 of 14) on free throws and 21.7 percent (5 of 23) on 3-pointers. After making six of its first seven shots Friday, Tennessee went 12 of 49 the rest of the way.
Trevor Releford scored 14 points for Alabama, which shot 41.3 percent (19 of 46), 78.9 percent (15 of 19) on free throws and 50 percent (5 of 10) from 3-point range. Nick Jacobs had six points and a career-high 12 rebounds.
Josh Richardson scored 16 points for Tennessee, which lost for just the second time in its last 11 games. Jarnell Stokes added 12 points and 13 rebounds for his 15th double-double of the season, the most by a Tennessee player since Bernard King had 19 in 1976-77.
Tennessee star Jordan McRae had been averaging 24.6 points over his last seven games, but he scored just nine points and shot 3 of 13 Friday while struggling with foul trouble.
The Vols made six of their first seven shots and went on an early 9-0 run to grab a 13-8 lead, but they cooled off from there as Alabama quickly caught up.
Alabama had plenty of success driving to the basket early on with Releford and redshirt freshman Retin Obasohan, a reserve guard who hadn’t even played in the Tide’s two regular-season games with Tennessee.
Tennessee lost the lead by getting too dependent on its perimeter attack. The Vols attempted nearly as many 3-point shots (13) as two-pointers (14) in the first half.
The Vols trailed 44-41 midway through the second half when Trae Golden and Armani Moore missed potential game-tying 3-pointers. Alabama followed with a 6-0 run to seize the momentum and grab a 50-41 advantage. Jacobs made consecutive baskets and McRae picked up his fourth foul during that critical spurt.
Tennessee responded with five straight points to cut Alabama’s lead to 50-46, but that’s as close as the Vols would get.