NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy hoped his team can improve from a Southeastern Conference tournament win over Florida that looked good — to him — only on the scoreboard.
Jalen Jones made a go-ahead layup with 2:08 remaining and Alex Caruso followed with a steal and a layup 13 seconds later to key a 7-0 run that pushed No. 17 Texas A&M past Florida 72-66 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. The Aggies will play LSU at noon Saturday.
Playing for the first time as the tournament’s top seed, the Aggies (25-7) needed everything and everybody to break free of a Florida team that stayed with them throughout a tight game featuring 11 ties and seven lead changes. Something also had to give in a contest in which both teams shot just 39 percent.
Texas A&M ultimately prevailed by making shots when needed, along with a key takeaway.
“We didn’t play well offensively, but we gutted it out,” Kennedy said.
Danuel House followed those two quick baskets with a 3-pointer with 1:02 left to provide some more room, and freshman Admon Gilder’s two free throws with 22.8 seconds left sealed the Aggies’ seventh straight win.
Caruso added two more foul shots six seconds later as the Aggies advanced for the first time since their inaugural appearance in 2013.
As bad as Texas A&M shot, it scored 44 points in the paint, recorded 11 assists and committed just seven turnovers. And most importantly, it’s still playing for the SEC.
“The first game in any tournament is the hardest game to win,” Kennedy added. “All the places I’ve been coaching, you’ve got to get past an ugly first-round game. ... Hopefully, we got the ugliness out of us.”
House and Tyler Davis each scored 15 points for Texas A&M, which will face the Tennessee-LSU winner in Saturday’s semifinal. Jones finished with 13 points.
Kasey Hill’s 18 points led five players in double figures for eighth-seeded Florida (19-14).
Dorian Finney-Smith and John Egbunu each added 11 points for Florida, but Egbunu fouled out with just under three minutes left.
Texas A&M then made several plays in the closing minutes to seal the back-and-forth game.
NO. 16 KENTUCKY 83, ALABAMA 61: In Nashville, Tenn., Jamal Murray scored 23 points, Alex Poythress made a career-best four 3-pointers, and No. 16 Kentucky had an easy time in a rout of Alabama.
Playing about 50 miles southeast of his Clarksville, Tennessee, home, Poythress put on an offensive show in his final SEC tournament with 7-of-8 shooting including 4 of 5 from long range for 20 points.
It was the senior forward’s third 20-point game this season and first since posting a career-best 25 at Alabama on Jan. 9.
Murray added perimeter shots as second-seeded Kentucky finished 13 of 23 from behind the arc to beat the 10th-seeded Crimson Tide (18-14) for the third time this season. The Wildcats advanced to Saturday’s semifinal against the Georgia-South Carolina winner.
Tyler Ulis added 17 points for the Wildcats, who led by as many as 26.