NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Herbert Jones drove for a go-ahead layup with 19.5 seconds and No. 6 Alabama won the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time since 1991, holding off a late flurry to edge LSU 80-79 Sunday.
Coach Nate Oats and the Crimson Tide added to their regular-season title with a victory that should help Alabama at least match its highest seed ever in the NCAA Tournament — it was No. 2 in both 1987 and 2002.
Alabama, the reigning national champions in football, won its seventh tournament title overall, second in the SEC only to Kentucky’s 31. The Crimson Tide (24-6) hadn’t even reached this game since 2002.
After Jones went a long way down the lane for his shot, Alabama turned to its defense.
Keon Ellis blocked a shot by LSU’s Javonte Smart and the Tigers took a timeout with just over seven seconds left to set up the final attempt.
After the inbounds pass went nearly to midcourt, Trendon Watford’s 3 was wel short of the rim. Aundre Hyatt’s putback hit the back of the rim and bounced out and LSU couldn’t get another shot off in the scramgle before the buzzer.
That set off yet another Alabama celebration — this time on the basketball court.
Hyatt, meanwhile, was on the floor with his head in his hands. Watford was on his knees and slammed the court with a hand.
Jones, both the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Jaden Shackelford led Alabama with 21 points, and Ellis and Jahvon Quinerly each had 14.
LSU (18-9) hadn’t won this tournament since 1980, and this was the Tigers’ first time in the final since 1993.
Watford finished with a career-high 30 points for LSU. Smart added 21 and Cameron Thomas had 18.
About 20 minutes before tip-off, Alabama and LSU players had to be separated at midcourt. That was just a preview of the taut battle to follow.
Alabama scored the first eight points of the game only to see LSU answer with a 15-5 run of its own to take a 15-13 lead on Thomas’ third 3 of the game. Alabama scored the final seven of the half and took a 40-37 lead into halftime.
Neither team led by more than four in the second half. Alabama was up 56-52 on a free throw by Jones. Smart hit back-to-back 3s with Thomas scoring on a layup, giving LSU a 60-56 lead midway through the half.
Shackelford answered with his own back-to-back 3s before Gary’s layup made it 64-60 with 8:20 left.
Shackelford hit his fifth 3 with 6:54 to go giving Alabama its biggest lead since the opening minutes at 69-63. But LSU, especially Watford or Smart, kept answering to set up the thrilling finish.
LSU: The Tigers took very good care of the ball with only five turnovers that Alabama turned into six points. But the second-highest scoring team in the SEC couldn’t make the shot at the end to win.
Alabama: The Tide’s starters had plenty of help, outscoring LSU 28-0 in bench points. The Tide also outrebounded LSU 50-43.
LSU is expecting to make consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2005 and 2006.
Alabama will make the 21st NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
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