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Alabama’s hopeful march to SEC tourney repeat begins against Vanderbilt

Alabama’s hopeful march to SEC tourney repeat begins against Vanderbilt

Sixth-seeded will take its first step toward defending its Southeastern Conference tournament title when it plays 11th-seeded in the second round on Thursday night in Tampa.

The Crimson Tide (19-12) had a first-round bye while Vanderbilt (16-15) cruised to an 86-51 victory over 14th-seeded Georgia on Wednesday.

The winner will face third-seeded Kentucky (25-6), which received a double bye into the quarterfinals, on Friday.

The Crimson Tide have been inconsistent this season while playing what’s regarded as the country’s toughest schedule by KenPom, ESPN BPI and the Sagarin Rankings.

Alabama has wins over five ranked teams, including then-#3 Gonzaga.

“We’re trying to put everything that happened in the regular season past us and focus on SEC tournament, postseason play,” Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “I feel like guys who haven’t been in this situation before, they don’t really know what it feels like to be in this position. So the upperclassmen have to set a good example for the younger guys and just make sure guys are prepared to go for postseason play.”

The Crimson Tide, which ended the regular season with losses to Texas A&M and LSU, are led by one of the most prolific trios in the country.

Jaden Shackelford (16.6 points per game), Quinerly (14.3) and Keon Ellis (12.1) have accounted for 54 percent of the team’s 80.1 points-per-game average, 71 percent of its 3-pointers, 51 percent of its field goals, and 51 percent of its made free throws.

Vanderbilt is led by Scotty Pippen Jr., who had a game-high 14 points in 23 minutes in the lopsided win over Georgia, giving him an SEC-leading 20.3 points per game.

Jordan Wright, who is the only other Commodore who averages in double figures in scoring at 11.7 points per game, added 11 against Georgia, while Myles Stute and Shane Dezonie chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively.

“Scotty has picked up the slack — no doubt about that,” Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said in his postgame interview. “It’s a team effort, and we know it is Scotty’s team and what he brings is huge, but we’re a team.”

Vanderbilt’s blowout of Georgia, which saw the Commodores lead by as many as 37 in the second half, enabled Stackhouse to rest his starters. None of the Commodores’ starters played more than Stute’s 24 minutes.

Alabama defeated host Vanderbilt 74-72 in the teams’ regular-season meeting on Feb. 22 in Nashville.

Pippen was terrific, finishing with 26 points, six assists and six steals. But Quinerly scored 19 for the Crimson Tide, who also had Noah Gurley (11 points), JD Davison (10) and Ellis (10) score in double figures, as Alabama rallied from an eight-point, second-half deficit.

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