Alabama pushed around Tennessee and played like a team desperately chasing an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Vols hope they weren’t knocked off the bubble.
Tennessee failed to match the Crimson Tide’s intensity and bowed out of the Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 58-48 loss in a quarterfinal on Friday at Bridgestone Arena.
The Vols (20-12) now have to wait 48 hours to see if they’ve done enough to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and seventh in the last eight years.
“I believe we’re a tournament team,” forward Jarnell Stokes said. “We beat the top teams in the conference. I feel like toward the midpoint of the season we had to adjust to a couple things but I think we went eight for nine to end the season. I think we’re a tournament team.”
Alabama (21-11) never trailed the last 27 minutes and the Vols couldn’t assert their force in the paint. Instead, they relied on perimeter shots and made just five of 23 3-pointers. They shot their third-worst percentage of the season (32.1) and made just two shots in the final 12:12.
Stokes recorded his SEC-tying 15th double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 rebounds. But the 6-foot-8, 270-pound sophomore was frustrated often by Nick Jacobs and Devonta Pollard. The duo combined for five blocks. Jacobs, a 6-foot-8, 265-pounder, grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds.
The Tide lost the rebounding battle just 35-33 – much improved from the previous two meetings where Tennessee grabbed 15 more rebounds both times.
“He is a load down there in the post,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said of Stokes. “The biggest thing was to make him have to work for everything he got. I thought our guys were able to do that. I thought the zone helped some of that as well. It was just a matter of stepping up and competing and I thought both of those guys did that.”
Josh Richardson did his best to pull the Vols back into it with 12 of his game-high 16 points coming in the second half. But after a pair of free throws by Stokes cut the deficit to four, Levi Randolph banked a turnaround jumper off the glass to spark an 8-2 run to end the game.
Randolph scored 15 points and Trevor Releford added 14 points. Alabama advances to its 25th SEC semifinal – tied with LSU for the second-most – and will play top seed Florida on Friday (noon, ABC).
Tennessee returns to Knoxville and will watch the selection show on Sunday privately. Second-year coach Cuonzo Martin remained firm in his belief that the Vols are a lock for an at-large bid.
Entering Friday, Tennessee had an RPI of 55 and had won nine of 10. The Vols finished with an 11-7 mark in league play and tied for fifth place. They have wins over the league’s top two teams, Florida and Kentucky, along with victories against Alabama and Missouri. They also picked up non-conference wins at home against Wichita State and Xavier.
Both Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com and Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com have Tennessee playing LaSalle in one of the four play-in games, pitting No. 12 seeds on Tuesday or Wednesday for a shot to reach the round of 64.
“Our resume stacks up against the best when you talk about a bubble team per se,” Martin said. “I think both team were fighting for the same thing. I feel like we’re an NCAA Tournament team, win or lose this particular game.”
• No. 1 Florida 80, No. 9 LSU 58: Erik Murphy didn’t show any effects of a sore knee en route to posting career-highs with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
Florida’s senior center had injured his knee during practice but he was unstoppable on Friday. He made 11-of-15 shots and sank five 3-pointers to lead four Gators in double figures. Scottie Wilbekin added 16 points and four treys to put Florida (25-6) in its third straight semifinal.
Charles Carmouche scored 14 points for LSU (19-12), which trailed by 35 with more than eight minutes left.