The Alabama men’s basketball team advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2013 with a 64-53 win over South Carolina on Friday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The win marks the first time Alabama has won two games in the SEC Tournament since the 2001-02 season when the Tide defeated Tennessee, 91-72, and South Carolina, 67-55.

Freshman Braxton Key led the Tide with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field to go along with seven boards, while junior Riley Norris scored 12 – all coming in the second half. Senior Bola Olaniyan had a game-high 10 rebounds, his ninth double-digit rebounding game this year.

“I'm really proud of our guys,” head coach Avery Johnson said. “We've had an up-and-down year in a lot of ways and haven't been able to put together complete games, especially in back-to-back games. But we did it tonight. I'm proud of our guys. They were hard-nosed, they fought and they were scrappy. And these two gentlemen that are up here now, Riley Norris and Braxton Key, are huge reasons why we're advancing in the SEC Tournament.”

It was a tightly-contested game throughout, featuring eight ties and eight lead changes. Neither team led by more than six points until the final stretch. With the Tide clinging to a 54-53 lead with 2:54 remaining, sophomore Avery Johnson Jr. hit a pair of free throws to jump start a game-ending 9-0 run to result in the final score.

The top two defenses in the SEC played a low-scoring first half that saw just two points scored in the first four and half minutes of play. After 20 minutes, Alabama led, 23-22, and both teams had shot under 40 percent for the half (36 percent for Alabama, 35 percent for South Carolina). The half featured four ties and four lead changes with the Tide leading by as many as five points, but never trailing by more than one. The Gamecocks went cold to end the half, not making a field goal in the final 2:44 before the break.

The Tide controlled the pace of the game from the start and held South Carolina to just 38 percent shooting from the field. Alabama bounced back in the second half shooting 57 percent from the field to finish the game at 45 percent.

The second half began the same as the first, as both teams continued to trade baskets. With 12:20 to play, the Tide took a 38-37 lead on a Norris layup and would never trail again. The Gamecocks pulled within one point four times as the clock wound down, but could not regain the lead.

South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year who scored 44 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in the teams’ last meeting that went to quadruple overtime, scored 16 points and pulled down four rebounds.

The Tide owned a 42-27 advantage on the glass and a 16-6 lead in second chance points. Alabama also connected on 15-of-21 (71.4 percent) from the charity stripe. In addition, the Tide connected on 57.1 percent (12-of-21) from the field in the second half and 44.9 percent (22-of-49) for the game.

Alabama will play No. 1-seed Kentucky tomorrow at noon CT in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. The contest will air on The SEC Network. In the only contest between the teams this season, the Wildcats captured a 67-58 win in Tuscaloosa, Ala., back on Feb. 11.

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