TAMPA — Alabama entered the SEC tournament on the wave of a last-second upset victory Sunday at Tennessee to end the regular season.
And Thursday, the Crimson Tide kept rolling with an 82-75 opening-round victory over Vanderbilt.
It was fourth-seeded Alabama's fifth triumph in its past five games and snapped a three-game win streak by the fifth-seeded Commodores (19-12). Leading the way was senior forward Alonzo Gee, a Florida native and second-team All-SEC player who scored 25 (including 7-of-8 at the free-throw line) and added six rebounds.
Junior guard Mikhail Torrance constantly set up Gee while contributing 20 points. Their hot hands made the difference as the Tide led from start to finish, advancing to the second round to face Tennessee tonight.
"We talked in terms of this being our championship game against Vanderbilt," interim coach Philip Pearson said. "We prepared for it, and suddenly for us, it's a one-game season. I was very impressed with how our players came out … and got off to a good start."
Alabama (18-13) built leads of 10-2 and 29-17, but Vanderbilt kept fighting back, cutting its deficit to four before heading off at intermission trailing 36-30.
"I thought a real key to the game would be how we would respond in the first three or four or five minutes of the second half," Pearson said. "And I thought our guys did a great job there."
A pair of Gee dunks off Torrance assists helped the Tide take a 45-32 lead, and Gee's jumper with 11:17 left opened Alabama's biggest lead at 56-40.
"His play was great," Gee said of Torrance. "He found me and got me some easy plays."
Vanderbilt star center A.J. Ogilvy scored eight, and play-making guard Jermaine Beal managed five.