ST. LOUIS — With the Southeastern Conference tournament in St. Louis and heralded freshman Michael Porter Jr. returning, Missouri fans were hoping to be treated to a weekend-long show from the Tigers.
Yante Maten and the Georgia Bulldogs did their best job to prevent that from happening.
Maten scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Georgia squeaked out a 62-60 victory over Missouri in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday.
Georgia, the 12th seed, led throughout the second half, but fifth-seeded Missouri narrowed the Bulldogs' lead to just two points with seven seconds left. The Tigers drew up a play for their leading scorer, Kassius Robertson. But Robertson's 3-point attempt went long and Georgia secured the victory.
After starting the game down 10-0, the Bulldogs (18-14), who face fourth-seeded Kentucky in Friday's second quarterfinal, charged back with a 12-0 run of their own. The trend continued throughout the contest: Missouri makes a run, Georgia responds.
"I felt like we got off to a very slow start but eventually found a rhythm defensively in the first half," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "(We) were able to just kind of grind to the finish."
Maten and the Bulldogs put Missouri in foul trouble early. Missouri bigs Jeremiah Tilmon and Kevin Puryear fouled out and Jontay Porter finished with four fouls.
"We did a poor job of fouling," Robertson said. "We put them in the bonus really early, and they made a lot of money at the free-throw line."
Jontay Porter led Missouri (20-12) with 20 points and eight rebounds. His brother, Michael, a projected lottery pick who played just two minutes in the season opener and later had surgery, finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, but shot just 5 for 17 from the field.
Teshaun Hightower came up big off the bench for Georgia, matching his career high of 13 points. Hightower played a big role in Georgia's win over Vanderbilt Wednesday night, when he scored 13 and had six assists.
Georgia will take on Kentucky on Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
Missouri will wait until Sunday to figure out where it will go next.
ALABAMA 71, TEXAS A&M 70
ST. LOUIS — Collin Sexton wasn't quite ready to put Alabama's postseason chances in the hands of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Instead, the standout freshman took the Crimson Tide's fate into his own hands — a plan that kept the school's NCAA hopes alive for another day.
Sexton drove the length of the court in the final seconds and hit a floater at the buzzer to give ninth-seeded Alabama (18-14) a 71-70 win over Texas A&M on Thursday. He did so just moments after T.J. Starks hit a 3-pointer to put the Aggies up 70-69 with 4.4 seconds remaining, taking the inbounds pass following a timeout and racing up the court for the game winner.
"Coach (Avery Johnson) just told me to race it up the floor to get to the basket," Sexton said. "He knew how fast I could get there so he said, 'Just get to the basket, get a layup for us.' "
Sexton finished with 27 points, none bigger than his final two. Alabama led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but the No. 8 seed Aggies (20-12) rallied and went up by one point after Starks' 3-pointer.
That's when Sexton took the inbounds pass and raced up the court for his winning shot. Dazon Ingram scored 13 points for the Crimson Tide, and Donta Hall added 11.
The win snaps a five-game losing streak for the Crimson Tide, and it provides a much-needed boost for school's case for a bid to the NCAA Tournament — which it is trying to reach for the first time since 2012.
"I think (the pressure) is motivating," Johnson said. "They understand that there are not a lot of chances left, no matter how far you go ... I just told them, 'Are you going to be able to look at yourself in the mirror after this game?' "
Starks matched his career high with 23 points in the loss for Texas A&M, and Admon Gilder had 15.
The Aggies had won three in a row entering the game, including a 68-66 victory over the Crimson Tide six days ago. Texas A&M led by as many as seven points early in the first half, but Alabama surged ahead in to take a 35-28 halftime lead — only to need Sexton's last-second shot to hold on for the win.
"I feel really good (about Texas A&M's NCAA Tournament chances)," Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. "Something we can learn from is that the game's not over until the buzzer goes off."
Alabama faces Auburn in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Aggies wait to find out their postseason fate.
MISSISSIPPI STATE 80, LSU 77
ST. LOUIS — Lamar Peters scored 24 points and Mississippi State hit 10 3-pointers in defeating LSU 80-77 in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday.
Leading by seven with 34 seconds left, the Bulldogs allowed the Tigers to hit two consecutive 3s to close to 78-77. But with nine seconds to play, Mississippi State inbounded the ball, avoided foul attempts and escaped with victory after Nick Weatherspoon's dunk.
Peters led an unlikely charge from 3 for the seventh-seeded Bulldogs, who came into the contest the 15th-worst team at 30.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Mississippi State (22-10), which faces Tennessee in Friday's third quarterfinal, shot 9 of 12 from 3 in the first half and finished the game 10 for 17.
Tenth-seeded LSU (17-14) trimmed a once 19-point Bulldogs' lead to just two with 5:52 remaining. The game stayed close until the end, but the Tigers never retook the lead.
Tremont Waters led LSU with 28 points and six assists. He sustained an injury in the final minutes but battled through till the end of the game.
Waters and Peters went back and forth all game, but Peters' teammates scored more down the stretch. Quinndary Weatherspoon and his brother, Nick, each finished with 15 points for the Bulldogs. Aric Holman posted a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 boards.
LSU will wait to see its postseason fate.
Mississippi State faces Tennessee on Friday in the evening session of the tournament.
VANDERBILT DOUBTFUL FRIDAY
ST. LOUIS — Kentucky likely will be without one of its top players to open the postseason.
Kentucky coach John Calipari confirmed Thursday freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt likely won’t play when the Wildcats take on Georgia Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Bulldogs advanced following a 62-60 victory over Missouri Thursday.
“I doubt seriously that Jarred will play obviously if he’s still limping,” Calipari said. “I doubt (Friday) he will play. Hopefully, at one point he tries to see what he can do … I don’t think it’s (going to be Friday) … We’ll miss it. It will be harder to play without him.”
Vanderbilt has played in 14 games since his return from a foot injury in January and averaged 5.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game since making his debut against South Carolina in January. Although his scoring and rebounding gave the Wildcats a boost, his inspired play will be missed the most.
“What we have to do is make up for his energy,” Calipari said. “Someone got to come in (and give us some energy). It’s not one (player), let’s all pick it up five percent and we’ve got to pick up nine rebounds. So where are those nine going to come from? A couple of more from PJ (Washington), a couple from Wenyen (Gabriel), a couple from Kevin Knox. Guards, get a couple and Sacha and Nick together get a couple more than they’ve been getting.”
Calipari didn’t put a timetable on his return. Following the SEC Tournament this weekend, the Wildcats will compete in the NCAA Tournament next week.
“He’s got to make that decision,” Calipari said. “Last time it took time to do it, but it’s not going to be me making (the decision). It will be him and the doctors to make sure it will be OK.”
The absence of Vanderbilt will give Nick Richards and Sacha Killeya-Jones an opportunity to log more minutes and contribute but will alter the team’s look on the court.
“It gives Sacha and Nick a chance to play more,” Calipari said. “It gives us a chance to Wenyen (Gabriel) at the five (spot). It makes us a different kind of team.”
The Kentucky coach also said not having Vanderbilt will also hurt his team’s chemistry, especially when he was paired with Washington on the court.
“They played buddy basketball and they both knew where each other (where) and they created good opportunities for each other and we’re going to have to see if that can be Wenyen,” Calipari said. “How can we do this?”
Calipari will get a chance to see how his team responds against a determined Georgia team that has won two straight games in the tournament. The Bulldogs (18-14) lost to Kentucky 66-61 in the conference opener for both teams on Dec. 31 at Rupp Arena.
“We should have got beat and they had us beat,” Calipari said. “(Mark Fox) is doing a good job and it will be a hard game. These are all hard games.”
Calipari hasn’t been surprised by Georgia’s showing in the first two days of the tournament and said the team’s losses in the league, including two overtime setbacks, have been because of a dose of tough luck.
“They were the team that was playing the best toward the end of the year,” Calipari said. “They lost at home to Texas A&M in the last minute. They lost to Tennessee in the last minute (and) they should have won both games. They had good leads in both games. You saw what they did to Vandy and now what they did to Missouri and Missouri, they told me, had the building. It was a road game.”
Although not a fan of conference tournaments, Calipari hopes the event gives his team a chance to improve their seeding status in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re using this tournament to see how good we can be,” Calipari said. “We’re using this to prepare us for next year and we’re also using this tournament to see if we can improve our seed, which it never does. … This is our opportunity right now to do what we need to do.”
The bottom line Calipari said is how much progress the Wildcats can make in a short period of time.
“How good can we become as a team? Let’s do this game-by-game and let’s see if we can improve and get out mindset where it needs to be. … I like the frame of mind my kids are in, but you just don’t know when they’re young and this inexperienced.”