Earlier this week, Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans made no secret of his preference regarding an opponent Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
“You know, we all want . . . Alabama,” he said.
Kentucky will get its wish thanks to Alabama’s second-half comeback that beat Ole Miss 62-57 on Thursday night.
The Tide, which improved to 18-14, kept its hopes alive for an NCAA Tournament bid.
For Ole Miss, it was yet another heartbreak. The Rebels led by 14 at halftime. But leading lights Breein Tyree and Terence Davis making only a combined four of 27 shots (two of 14 from three-point range) doomed Ole Miss to a sixth loss by six or fewer points.
Alabama, which beat Kentucky 77-75 in the opening weekend of SEC play, was led by Tevin Mack. He made four of six three-point shots and scored 21 points.
John Petty’s put-back dunk with 1:06 left put Alabama ahead 59-57. After Galin Smith made one of two free throws, Ole Miss had a chance to tie it. The Rebels looked for Davis even though he had made only one of 10 shots.
But Alabama’s defense prevented the pass, so Devontae Shuler took and missed a three-pointer from the top of the key.
Ole Miss led 38-24 at halftime, and had to feel confident. The Rebels led for more than 16 minutes despite Tyree and Davis combining to make only two of 15 shots (one of eight from three-point range). The two were the top-scoring duo in the SEC this season.
Alabama’s 10 turnovers helped keep Ole Miss ahead.
Ole Miss, which had six assists and 16 turnovers against Alabama in January, committed only two turnovers in the first half.
The track record did not suggest a come-from-behind victory by Alabama. The Tide came to the SEC Tournament with a 1-10 record in games it trailed at halftime.
It was the third-largest halftime deficit for Alabama this season. The Tide trailed 48-28 at Auburn on Feb. 2 and 43-28 at LSU on Jan. 8. Alabama lost both games.
The Alabama comeback was not immediate, but it was dramatic.
Mack, who made a career-high six three-pointers against Kentucky in early January, got a 12-0 run started with back-to-back three-pointers. Kira Lewis’ layup completed the run that put Alabama ahead 44-43 with 12:14 left.
From there, it was nip-and-tuck to the finish line, just the kind of scenario that Ole Miss struggled with many times in the regular season.
Tyree and Davis took most of Ole Miss’s shots down the stretch. Only one was good inside the final eight minutes.
‘Like a brother’
Florida freshman Keyontae Johnson played with Keldon Johnson at high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy last season. They’ve also been teammates on the AAU circuit.
They’re not related, but . . .
“He’s like a brother to me,” Keyontae said of Keldon on Wednesday. “Like we basically grew up together. We’re real close.”
The two call or text each other after games. Keyontae’s performance in Florida’s 66-50 victory over Arkansas on Thursday gave him plenty to tell Keldon about. Keyontae, a 6-5 forward, scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds (one shy of a career high). In addition to his second triple-double, he also equaled a career high with three three-pointers.
Keyontae said he would be calling Keldon later Thursday.
▪ Tom Hart, Jon Sundvold and sideline reporter (and former Ole Miss coach) Andy Kennedy will call UK’s game against Alabama for the SEC Network.
▪ For ESPN’s telecasts of Saturday’s semifinal on UK’s side of the bracket and Sunday’s finals, the announcers for those games will be Karl Ravech, Dick Vitale and sideline reporter Laura Rutledge.
No. 4 Kentucky vs. Alabama
What: SEC Tournament quarterfinals
When: 7 p.m. EDT
Where: Bridgestone Arena in Nashville
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 26-5 (15-3 SEC), Alabama 18-14 (9-10)
Series: Kentucky leads 112-38
Last meeting: Alabama won 77-75 on Jan. 5, 2019, at Tuscaloosa, Ala.