Florida downs No. 19 Alabama 102-88 to reach semifinals of SEC Tournament

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Walter Clayton Jr. scored 23 points and sixth-seeded Florida routed No. 19 Alabama 102-88 Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

With losses by regular season champ Tennessee and No. 2 seed Kentucky earlier Friday, this marked the first time the SEC’s top three seeds all lost their tournament openers since 1983. That tournament was played in Birmingham, Alabama, and Georgia won the title and wound up reaching the Final Four.

Zyon Pullin added 19 points, Tyrese Samuel had 18, Alex Condon 12 and Will Richard had 10 for Florida (23-10). The Gators will face No. 7 seed Texas A&M, a 97-87 winner over ninth-ranked Kentucky, in the semifinals Saturday.

This is Florida's first berth in the semifinals since 2019 and second since winning its last SEC Tournament title in 2014. The Gators have won this tournament four times.

“Alabama’s a great team, but we beat them pretty comfortably tonight and I thought it was a great effort from our group,” Florida coach Todd Golden said.

Alabama (21-11) came in having won the SEC regular-season title and tournament championship two of the past three years under coach Nate Oats. Now the Crimson Tide is heading home early to start preparing for Sunday’s NCAA Tournament bracket announcement.

Mark Sears led Alabama with 22 points. Aaron Estrada added 17, Nick Pringle finished with 12 and Grant Nelson had 11.

The Crimson Tide scored the first eight points. Florida tied it up at 17 and again at 31. Then the Gators seized control with a 21-2 run to finish the half and take a 48-33 lead into the locker room.

“We’ve got to be better,” Oats said. “I’ve got to do a better job. Maybe I probably should’ve called a timeout in the middle of that six minutes there at the end of the half."

The Gators started the second half where they left off, scoring the first four points and avoiding another slow start.

“Obviously a concerning start going down 8-0 in the first two minutes,” Golden said of the Gators’ slow start. “But after that, I thought we played fantastic the rest of the way."

Florida led by as much as 82-58 on its way to scoring 100 points against Alabama for a second straight game between the teams.

Oats said his players have to decide how bad they want to win the NCAA Tournament, which means playing defense for a full 40 minutes.

“You decide to take 24 minutes off on the defensive end, it’s going to be hard to beat anybody in the NCAA Tournament,” Oats said.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators split during the regular season with Alabama, losing 98-93 in overtime on the road and winning 105-87 in Gainesville. The Gators advanced to the quarterfinals with an 85-80 victory over Georgia in the opening round. ... They had a big edge at the free throw line, knocking down 31 of 36 compared to 16 of 23 for Alabama.

Alabama: Oats now is 7-2 in SEC Tournament games. He has signed an extension that will go to the Board of Regents next week. ... Latrell Wrightsell, in his second game after returning from a concussion, was 0 for 4 from 3-point range. Ryland Griffen, who missed the last regular-season game with a strained calf, went 1 of 5.

UP NEXT

Florida lost 67-66 at Texas A&M during the regular season.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball