NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Playing as the Southeastern Conference Tournament’s team to beat for the first time since 2002, Alabama seemed intent on proving its worth — early, quickly and effectively.
Jahvon Quinerly scored 14 points off the bench, Jaden Shackelford added 13 points and No. 6 Alabama blew out Mississippi State 85-48 on Friday in an SEC quarterfinal.
The top-seeded Crimson Tide (22-6) will face fourth-seeded Tennessee in Saturday’s semifinals.
Alabama followed a couple of small early runs with a 17-0 surge over nearly five minutes for an eventual 43-13 cushion just before halftime. The Tide also swarmed the Bulldogs defensively, scoring 24 points off 14 first-half turnovers and holding them to 30% shooting overall.
“Defensively, I thought we were really locked in for a good part of that game,” coach Nate Oats said.
As expected of the nation’s second-ranked perimeter team, 13 3-pointers propelled the Tide’s explosive attack with Shackelford and John Petty Jr. leading the way. Shackelford made 3 of 6 from deep. Petty hit 3 of 7, including consecutive left-corner jumpers during the big run, for his nine points.
Quinerly was 6 of 8 shooting with two 3s. SEC player of the year Herbert Jones had eight points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks in 17 minutes. Juwan Gary made all four shots for 11 points as the Tide’s bench routed the Bulldogs’ reserves 47-5.
Alabama shot 49% in winning its fourth consecutive game and third this season over the Bulldogs.
Not bad considering the early-morning wakeup call and tipoff.
“There was a lot of questions about us coming out in these early games,” Petty said. “Previously we didn’t really do too good. But I feel like our guys did a great job getting up this morning, getting real locked in and it showed out there on the court.”
Iverson Molinar scored 18 points, Tolu Smith had 11 and Abdul Ado grabbed 11 rebounds for ninth-seeded Mississippi State (15-14), which outrebounded the Tide 43-35 but finished 1 of 19 from long range and committed 18 turnovers.
The loss was especially hard to accept for Bulldogs coach Ben Howland, whose team had lost its two regular-season games against Alabama by single digits.
“To get beat this badly was really, really a bitter pill,” he said. “We were 1 of 19 from the 3-point line and you’re not going to win many games doing that.”
Alabama had 20 assists and committed just nine turnovers, efficiency that also pleased Oats.
“The ball was moving,” he said. “We made shots, but we didn’t shoot it like unbelievably well — 36% is probably a little below average. But we shot it well enough and we took care of the ball.”
Alabama guard Josh Primo (eight points) left with 12:35 remaining with a knee injury and did not return. He was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for further observation.
Mississippi State: A day after owning the paint against Kentucky, the Bulldogs rarely got a chance to establish their presence. They couldn’t match Alabama’s perimeter game on either end, digging a hole too deep.
Alabama: So much for any concern about the Crimson Tide being rusty from a double bye. Active defense led to easy offensive opportunities, and their fast pace created a lot of second chances as well. Alabama drained 3s in bunches to put this game away early and protected the ball.
Asked if it was the team’s most complete game this season, Jones agreed and added, “That was not surprising at all to me. I see it every day in practice. We started on the defensive end and our shots were falling. We’re going to come out and play defense every night but when our shots are falling, we’re very dangerous.”
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