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Quarterfinals Set in Full Day Two of SEC Tournament Action

@CoachRyanKY 🦉

The second day of SEC Tournament action came way on Thursday. Today, four games would be contested to decide who would move onto the quarterfinals tomorrow. If last night’s games were any indication of the excitement this tournament was going to hold, we were all in for a tantalizing treat.

Game 3: Mississippi State Bulldogs vs LSU Tigers, 1 PM ET, SEC NETWORK

A toss up between the 9th-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs and the 8th-seeded Tigers from Louisiana State University got things started in the opening game. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Bulldogs on the right side of the bubble, barely finding their way into the field on the NCAA Tournament. A win would virtually guarantee them a spot. “Win and in” is the terms they’d be forced to agree to against the bayou bengals.

Mississippi State won the tip off and would draw the first two free throws on the first possession of the game. Cameron Matthews missed both of the freebies. They would need to convert those in order to go to the NCAA Tournament. Josh Hubbard would be the offensive focal point for the Bulldogs. The freshman has been absolutely sensational in the second half of the season. The game resembled a car wreck over a basketball game until Hubbard sold contact from three land, missing the shot, but going 2-for-3 from the line to put the first points on the board at 18:07. Hubbard, originally was committed to Ole Miss, but opted for the in state rival Bulldogs when Kermit Davis was let go in the offseason. Will Baker splashed an NBA range triple to put the Tigers on the board 2:49 seconds into the game. The score was 3-2 and Baker showed that although he is a seven-footer, he would need to be respected on the perimeter. The Men in Maroon (MSU) went on a quick 4-0 run to enter the first tv timeout and held the lead 6-3, 15:26 remaining in this game that was off to a sluggish start.

Both teams began to warm up, but the physicality of this game was going to make it to where if you wanted a basket at the rim….you’d need to earn it. Hunter Dean of LSU was hit hard by KeShawn Murphey at 13:09 but failed to capitalize. He went 1-for-2 from the line in what was beginning to become an issue for both teams. You simply cannot miss free throws and win in March. It doesn’t happen. The score was a measly 9-8, both coaches looked frustrated. “I think we are matching their physicality on our defensive end, we need to step up on offense” LSU Coach Matt McMahon told ESPN’s Marty Smith.

The boys from Baton Rouge took a 9-4 run into the under eight official timeout. That gave them a narrow 19-17 advantage. The run was highlighted by a Mike Williams III behind-the-back pass coming from his off hand to find Tyrell Ward in the right corner for three. Hunter Dean threw down a two handed slam with 4:10 to play. He is thriving in this ball game of body blows, that propelled the Tigers to a 5 point lead before halftime. Mississippi state closed out the quarter on an almost seven minute scoring drought until Josh Hubbard finally forced some contact and drew a whistle to put two free throws through the hoop with :38 seconds left. The Tigers took the lead at halftime after a costly mental error by LSU’s Williams III errantly throwing the ball away to give the Bulldogs the last shot of the half. The Bulldogs threw a weak entry pass into the post that was mishandled out of bounds to bail out Williams III and give the Tigers back possession and the opportunity to take the final shot. Williams failed to convert a tough three, although he had a good half otherwise.

Halftime Score: LSU 29 MSU 22

“We didn’t finish very well, we missed free throws that hurt us” said Mississippi State Coach Chris Jans as he exited the court. (He failed to mention that his front court gave him zero points that half.)

Will Baker opened up the banks in Nashville to make it 34-28 out of halftime with a three pointer finding the bottom of the net after hitting the backboard from deep in the land of threes. Mississippi State could not secure the ball, as the Bulldogs were poking everything loose and taking the easy transition baskets that the Tigers were so gracious to gift them. The official timeout came at 15:18 on a Tolu Smith missed layup that brought forth a jump ball whistle. This couldn’t have been Jans’s plan in the locker room. That was a sloppy four and a half minutes of basketball for Mississippi State. DJ Jeffries rim rocked a two handed dunk to bring the Bulldogs back within four of the Tigers. 15:02 would decide if the Bulldogs would be playing in the NCAA or NIT Tournament. Plays like that would help punch their ticket to the Big Dance. The score was now 34-30. Tolu Smith followed by finally getting his name on the score sheet, tying the game at 34 with 13:33 worth of pesky seconds lingering. Josh Hubbard made the Tigers pay for leaving him open, scoring and then quickly stealing the ball and feeding Sakeel Moore with a rifle pass to take the lead 42-36. McMahon was forced to burn a timeout with 11:18 remaining.

Mikey Williams of LSU drew contact on Hubbard with 9:33 remaining and appeared to have aggravated his left wrist as he landed awkwardly trying to catch himself. He netted nylon on both free throws, playing through obvious discomfort to narrow the deficit to five points.

IN YOUR FACE WITH AUTORITY! Shawn Jones Jr. from MSU violently cut and put an LSU defender on a poster! That was the best dunk of the tournament that I have seen thus far. The score was 50-42 after Trae Hannibal dropped two freebies and 8:27 separated the Mississippi State Bulldogs from the NCAA Tournament and all of its glory.

Live ball turnovers gave LSU the opportunity to explode back into contention in the game. They attacked poor conversion defense from the Bulldogs to pull within one point by way of Trae Hannibal, score 53-52. Josh Hubbard answered with a toughly contested three point basket followed by a baseline layup for five points in a row and widening the gap to six points at 58-52 for the Bulldogs with 4:26 to play.

The Bulldogs were able to pull away momentarily after Josh Hubbard took the game over. Cameron Matthews missed a free throw that Smith rebounded, resetting the shot clock for the Bulldogs with a buck forty-nine to play. LSU would desperately need a stop, and a stop they got. After Tolu Smith picked up a foul after a push in the back to put Dean of LSU on the charity stripe in the bonus. He went 100% on that trip and brought the game within six with only ninety ticks remaining. 64-58.

LSU lost Tolu Smith coming out of a timeout after a beautiful strategy drawn up by Jans at the last timeout. He slammed it home to widen the gap to eight. That lead would be too much for LSU to overcome as they were forced to put the Bulldogs on the line. Mississippi State would hold on, and all but punch their ticket to the dance, winning this one by ten. They will face the #1 seed tomorrow, the Tennessee Volunteers.

“We had confidence in each other, we just wanted to stay positive. We feel like we have a shot against anyone in the country as long as we stay positive.” Hubbard said after the game.

Final Score: Mississippi State 70 LSU 60

My Player of the Game: Josh Hubbard, Mississippi State (24 pts, 2 asst, 2 rbs, 90% FT)

Game 4: South Carolina Gamecocks vs Arkansas Razorbacks, 3:30 PM ET, SEC NETWORK

Arkansas took the court looking to continue their tournament run and keep riding “Cinderella’s Carriage” into March Madness. Musselman is known for deep runs in March. They would be put against the Gamecocks from South Carolina. South Carolina was in a tie for the #2 overall seed, eventually claimed by Kentucky in a tiebreaker that found the Gamecocks dropping all the way to the five line. South Carolina is ranked #15 in the AP Top 25, proving once again how deep the Southeastern Conference is this season. It just means more, right?

“It’s hard to describe it, when you get a group of guys that are committed to one goal it is hard to put a limit on what you can accomplish.” Carolina Coach Lamont Paris told Marty Smith in the pregame.

The Razorbacks jumped out to an early lead 90 seconds in at six to three. Tired legs didn’t seem to be an issue early for Arkansas after their game last night. El Ellis, a Razorback transfer from Louisville, shot a line to Kalif Battle down low, successfully converting an and-one opportunity to give Arkansas a 9-3 lead with 16:36 to go in the first half.

Arkansas was playing with an inspired vengeance. They came out flat in the first half of the game last night and were forced to complete a comeback against Vanderbilt in Coach Jerry Stackhouse’s final game as Head Coach for the ‘Dores. News is slowly leaking through the college basketball world that “Stack” has been given the “sack” in Nashville and Vanderbilt would be looking to move in a different direction with their men’s basketball program. Regardless, the boys from Fayetteville came to play.

South Carolina began to attack the basket down low and narrowed the gap to three on a Te’Lon Cooper bunny with 12:58 before halftime. The score sat at 15-12 while both teams started to heat up offensively. Arkansas was 46.2% from the field, which was topped by a clean 50% from South Carolina at the under 12 media timeout.

“Obviously we were worried about the energy, we gotta get better shot quality, we’ve slipped defensively and need to get back to defending”, noted Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman

Myles Stute found the bottom of the basket on a three from the left corner to put the Gamecocks back on top momentarily before Jalen Graham tied it back up on the Arkansas offensive end with 10:29 remaining. The score was all square at 17. My player of the game from last night, Khalif Battle, added three to his growing point total by pulling a jumper from Broadway to put the Razorbacks back ahead by one point. This Arkansas team just will not go away, I could only infer that they must be liking the feel of the glass slipper after last night’s come-from-behind thriller.

Both teams traded baskets as defensive effort was nowhere to be found momentarily by either team. Lamont Paris yelled to his team to pick up the effort as the score sat 29-28 with :40 seconds to play before the under four media timeout would be due. Mekhi Mitchell finished a layup through sturdy contact to add three to the board, but more importantly to give his Razorbacks a one point lead with 3:32 before both teams would regroup in the bowels of Bridgestone Arena. Rebounding would be the kryptonite of the first half for Musselman’s squad, second chance opportunities on the Gamecocks offensive end are keeping them competitive in this half. Jonah Gray made them pay on two straight possessions, grabbing an offensive board and rocking it home. He owned the paint that half, maybe they should rename it “The Gray”.

Halftime Score: South Carolina 38 Arkansas 35

“I think we got off to a slow start defensively, we have to find our groove.” Lamont Paris told media when asked what he thought could improve that half. Meechie Johnson did hit another buzzer beater to end the half on a basically non-defended drive. This tournament seems to be full of buzzer beaters.

South Carolina came out of the locker room running. Jumping on a stagnant Arkansas defense to widen their run to 10-0 and make the game 42-35 after just one minute had been played. Arkansas looked disinterested in continuing their season as a lackluster all around performance forced Musselman to call for time after South Carolina went up 11 with 17:29 before the “Woo Pig” chants would move to the baseball diamond. Musselman showed a look of defeat, not the fieriness that the national pundits have come to define in his coaching style. Ta’Lon Cooper “The Hooper” added to the Gamecock total out of the timeout, floating a shot through the sky to widen the lead to 13. The winner of this game would be moving on to face Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers. The under 12 media timeout came and I was just not feeling the excitement that some of the other games have provided. With the score 53-44, Carolina felt more in control of the game than the nine point margin. This felt like a game that would quickly be forgotten and could prove to be very inconsequential regardless of who would remain alive in the tournament as victors of this contest.

“Kudos to Lamont for taking it to their wallet” joked Dawn Staley in an in-game interview when asked about Lamont Paris’s impending contract extension. Staley is the head coach of the South Carolina Women’s Basketball juggernaut.

Arkansas started to force action down low and chopped away at the Carolina lead on a Jalen Graham layup to bring the Razorbacks within six points at 53-47, a little over ten minutes remained in the game. Collin Murray-Boyles was a force, bringing his game total to 22 points on an aggressive drive to the basket over poor resistance from Arkansas’s Mitchell. 7:38 was to still to be played, but it felt like Carolina was about to blow the doors open after a Makhi Mitchell turnover under the basket. South Carolina controlled the rest of the game, there’s not much to look into it. Maybe Arkansas’s game last night finally caught up to them? The energy level completely dropped out of the Razorbacks. Their season will likely end as they pork up this one over to the chickens by 14 points.

Final Score: South Carolina 80 Arkansas 66

My Player of the Game: Collin Murray-Boyles, South Carolina (24 pts, 7 rebs, 11/15 FG)

“This is my first time being here, I’m thankful for my teammates getting me the ball down low.” Collin Murray-Boyles told reporters moments after the buzzer.

Game 5: Ole Miss Rebels vs Texas A&M Aggies, 7 PM ET, SEC NETWORK

“They are coached by one of the best in the Country.” Buzz Williams, coach of the Texas A&M Aggies, complimented Ole Miss’s Chris Beard prior to their matchup in the SEC Tournament. Williams all but knew that his Aggies would likely need to win multiple games to gain a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Both of these teams have received AP Top 25 votes at various points during this season. He also would be looking to have a “dynasty” of sorts and coach his way to the championship game of this tournament for the fourth consecutive year.

Ole Miss controlled the tip as they would be representing the tenth-seed in this tournament field. The seventh-seeded Aggies from Texas A&M would be the first team to add to the score board off of a goal tend from skyscraper Jamarion Sharp, a 7’5” transfer for the Rebels by way of Western Kentucky University. Solomon Washington lowered his shoulder on a drive directly into Sharp’s chest, earning a whistle and converting both freebies from the stripe. That free throw gave A&M a one point advantage with 17:19 to play with the score being 4-3.

Ole Miss responded to Chris Beard and tied the game up at thirteen with 12:45 before halftime. The Rebels would need to win the entire tournament to be benefactors from the Automatic Bid from the Southeastern Conference, as they were not on any bubble lines of expert bracketologists. Wade Taylor IV was steady at point guard for the Aggies, showing veteran leadership that is so coveted by coaches come March. Ole Miss fell behind by two before Moussa Cisse evened things back up with 9:03 remaining. The tie was temporary, Manny Obaski drove with a reckless abandon to the rim to add to the Aggie point total. Texas A&M would lead 20-18 with 8:11 before it was time to regroup in the locker room. Jaylen Murray was confident in his stroke early, delivering a big blow to the hearts of Aggie Land, Williams called for time and the momentum was heavily swinging the way of the Rebs. Rebels lead 23-20 with 6:37 to go in the first half at the time of the stoppage.

Wade Taylor IV continued to slice up the Aggies with his ball handling. The Rebel defenders were having a difficult time keeping their feet in front of the shifty guard. He went 2-for-2 from the line to widen the Aggie advantage to five points with 4:21 yet to expire on the clock before the Ole Miss coaching staff could re-strategize on how to best cover Taylor in the final half. The winner of this game would move on to face the second overall seeded Kentucky Wildcats tomorrow night at the same time action got underway in this one in the quarterfinals.

A flagrant one for a hook-and-hold foul was assessed to Andersson Garcia of Texas A&M providing an opening for Ole Miss as they were starting to slide in a critical waning minutes of the first half. Ole Miss hit both free throws awarded from the flagrant foul to narrow the gap to four. They also would control possession of the ball because of the offense. Jaemyn Brakefield made them pay, as he laid in a shot from the SEC logo in the lane and earned the foul call. Brakefield was able to convert the and-one and the Rebels were now within one point. The score was 29-28 with just over three minutes to play. The Rebels completed the comeback to tie things up at 41 with 2:42 remaining. Beard had to have been proud of his team’s intensity and effort in making the Aggies pay for the costly Garcia hold.

The Rebels could not keep that up, as the Aggies were relentless on the offensive glass resulting in second chance buckets to give them the lead at half.

Halftime Score: Texas A&M 35 Ole Miss 31

“We didn’t do a good enough job on the glass, they had too many offensive rebounds and we didn’t have enough.” Buzz WIlliams articulated as he went into the locker room. Want to make a coach happy, kids? Rebound on both ends of the floor.

Ole Miss controlled the ball via the possession arrow coming out of halftime. Would the “chalk” hold as they had on the other two games of the day? Jamarion Sharp showed good hands, touching one in to bring his Rebels within two points. 35-33 was the score with 18:46 before the awaiting Wildcats would know their opponent.

Over four minutes had passed and not much had happened in the game worth of note. The half was sloppy. Four jump balls, countless diving players, and poor ball handling made this one difficult to write about. 12:56 was on the clock when Garcia of A&M added to his point total from the free throw line to widen the gap to four for the Aggies, 43-39. There had been a lot of fouls and very little flow to this game. It honestly was difficult to follow even for a basketball “nerd” like myself. Solomon Washington was ice cold from three, swishing a toughly contested bucket through the nylon to widen the gap to five points in this fight.

10:18 was on the clock as both teams exited the under 12 minute media pause. Matthew Morrell attacked the rack to add all three points of an and-one opportunity to close the gap back to three. Wade Taylor, showing veteran leadership as usual, wasted no time adding a deuce of his own to widen the gap back to five points. The score was 52-44 with 9:21 after Sharp fouled an A&M defender. Sharp is one block away as I am typing this of tying Hakeem Olajuwon’s NCAA Block Record. (I think that guy was pretty good!) Sharp is a native of the Commonwealth, playing high school ball for Hopkinsville in the KHSAA.

Texas A&M took a commanding nine point lead until Ole Miss’s Matthews Murrell was rewarded with a whistle after drawing Solomon Washington of the Aggies off of his feet from beyond the arc. He went 1-of-3 from the line to narrow the gap to eight in a game which A&M had an answer for everything that the Rebels could throw at them. The Rebs were simply outmatched from a talent perspective, they were giving up way too many offensive rebounds to have any success at winning basketball games. Ole Miss has been horrible all year on the offensive glass according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, they have been basically last place in Division 1 in that statistical category.

Ball watching, poor rebounding, and bad ball security are all to blame for the Rebels. They are going to wish they had this game back, they still should remain hopeful for a bid to the National Invitational Tournament, or “NIT.” The Aggies will move on to face the Kentucky Wildcats tomorrow night. Joe Lunardi now has A&M in his “Last Four In” for the NCAA Tournament.

Final Score Texas A&M 73 Ole Miss 65

My Player of the Game: Wade Taylor IV, Texas A&M (20 pts, 4 asst, 2 Rbds)

“We just wanted to stay disciplined, we just wanted to keep our composure and pull it out”, Wade Taylor told reporters after the game. He will have a quick turnaround as the “Blue Blood” awaits in Kentucky.

Game 6: Florida Gators vs Georgia Bulldogs, 9:30 PM ET, SEC NETWORK

The final game of the day would match bitter rivals. Eleventh-seeded Georgia would hope to pull off the upset of the sixth-seeded Florida Gators. As if this game needed any more story lines, Georgia Head Coach Mike White left Gainesville for Athens in 2022. Florida has won both matchups this season by single digits, did Georgia have an answer?

We were underway just after 10pm Eastern. (Gotta love tournament time!) The Gators jumped all over the Dawgs early. Exploding to a 7-2 lead and forcing Mike White to call for a timeout with 17:35 to play before he could get his team back in the locker room for a more lengthy discussion. The Dawgs are clawing, even though their leader Russel Tchewa was on the bench with foul trouble. The ball grew cold as the score set at a low 12-7 nearing the midway point of the half at 13 minutes. RJ Melendez, a transfer to Georgia by way of the Illini, came off of the bench for ten of Georgia’s twelve total. Other players were going to have to get involved on the offensive end if UGA wanted to stay out of “the danger zone”.

Georgia found themselves in a one possession game at the under eight media timeout in large part by controlling the glass. They were in the 30% range from the field, obviously abysmal. The score was 21-20 off of an 8-0 Bulldog run. Florida Coach Todd Golden, signed a contract extension today to remain in Gainesville. He will be a name to remember as a young force in the collegiate coaching ranks. He would need to settle his Gator squad into this game or they would have no need to even unpack their luggage at the team hotel.

Georgia held the lead as both teams trotted off to their respective locker rooms to regroup before the second half. This blogger could no longer hang as I dozed off. I did awaken to the post game interview with a victorious Todd Golden if that is any consolation.

Final Score: Florida 85 Georgia 80

My player of the game: Sleep

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