Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
SEC report: Road wins were last week's theme
Razorbacks wing Jordan Walsh contests a three-point attempt during Arkansas' 70-64 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, Feb. 11 2023, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The SEC’s theme from last weekend: Huge road wins.
Six teams notched impressive road victories, including significant upsets by Missouri at Tennessee and Mississippi State at Arkansas, to upgrade the NCAA Tournament prospects for both of those teams. Georgia, which downed Kentucky 75-68, was the only SEC team that managed to win a home game on Saturday.
Alabama kept up its conference roll with a 77-69 win at arch-rival Auburn to remain unbeaten (12-0) in league play with a half dozen regular season games remaining. With the ESPN “College GameDay” crew in Auburn, the Crimson Tide overcame a 57-52 deficit by closing with a 25-12 run over the last 9:35.
Alabama hosts the rematch on March 1 when Auburn travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Missouri’s 86-85 upset of No. 6 Tennessee on DeAndre Gholston’s three-point shot at the buzzer was the shocker of the day. Tennessee’s only prior home loss had been against Kentucky.
Mississippi State’s late-season surge continued, as the Bulldogs took control early and held off a hot Arkansas team 70-64 at Walton Arena. The Hogs’ only prior home loss had been against Alabama.
Texas A&M improved to 4-2 in SEC road games with a 74-62 win at LSU in which the Aggies led 41-17 at halftime.
Vanderbilt won its second game of the week against a top rival by hitting 12 of 23 three-pointers in an 88-80 road win at Florida.
South Carolina improved to 2-10 in the league by overcoming a late deficit in a 64-61 win at Ole Miss, reversing the outcome from an earlier loss to the Rebels in Colonial Life Arena.
ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi spoke to the SEC Network on Saturday about the huge value of a road win this time of the season, suggesting Alabama could move to his No. 1 overall seed after Purdue lost at Northwestern.
“Mississippi State [is] moving on to the active bubble with its win at Arkansas,” he added. “And how about Missouri? The Tigers move up a couple of lines.
“A team that really needed a road win though, Kentucky, is unable to get it. The Wildcats drop out of the field … now No. 71 overall.”
Lunardi fessed up that he picked the Wildcats to win the national championship.
In and out
CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm moved Kentucky to his “first four out” lineup on Monday, joining Texas A&M there in his latest NCAA Tournament bracket projection, which includes five SEC teams.
Palm has Alabama as a 1 seed, Missouri and Tennessee as 4 seeds, and Arkansas and Auburn as 10 seeds in his projection. Palm has 36 teams in his field with NET rankings lower than Texas A&M’s 33, including Wisconsin, wihich is No. 80 but has a 5-6 record in Quadrant 1 games, and USC, with is No. 62.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi moved Texas A&M to his “last team in” designation prior to the Aggies’ win at LSU that night. He also included Kentucky in his Saturday morning projection, but dropped the Wildcats out after a road loss at Georgia.
His other SEC selections: 1 seed Alabama, 2 seed Tennessee, 8 seed Arkansas, 9 seed Auburn and 10 seed Missouri.
Three SEC games will be played on Valentine’s Day tonight, including a doubleheader on the SEC Network.
The evening will begin at 5:30 with South Carolina hosting Vanderbilt on the network. The Commodores, playing their best conference basketball under Coach Jerry Stackhouse, will go for their fourth consecutive win while the Gamecocks under first-year Coach Lamont Paris will try to break an 0-6 skid in conference home games.
Auburn will host suddenly hot Missouri at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, then Georgia will host LSU at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. The Tigers have not won yet in 2023, with 12 consecutive losses, the last 11 by double figures, since opening league play with a 60-57 win over Arkansas.
Texas A&M’s 74-62 win at LSU on Saturday gave the Aggies a rare sweep in the series. Texas A&M had snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Tigers with a 69-56 win in Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, on Jan. 7.
Guard Tyrece Radford, a native of Baton Rouge, returned home and scored 12 points, including 8 of 12 free-throw shooting, to help A&M deal LSU its 12th consecutive loss.
The Aggies had not won both games in the series with LSU, one of its “mirror” opponents, since the 2016-17 season.
Texas A&M has been dealing against SEC opponents since late last year, with its 16-3 mark going back to the 2022 SEC Tournament the best in the conference in that span. The Aggies’ 10-2 start in league play is their best since joining the league for the 2012-13 season, beating an 8-4 start in 2015-16. The Aggies were actually 7-0 in the SEC that year before falling 74-71 at Arkansas on Jan. 27.
Both of Tennessee’s losses last week — 66-65 at Vanderbilt and 86-85 at home against Missouri — came on buzzer-beating three-pointers when the Volunteers led by two points.
Both of them featured veteran guard Santiago Vescovi at the free-throw line with a chance to extend Tennessee leads in the closing seconds.
Vescovi missed the front end of a two-shot foul with 4.2 seconds left and Tennessee leading Missouri 85-83 on Saturday. Then teammate Tobe Awaka committed a lane violation as he missed the second. DeAndre Gholston took the inbound pass, dribbled past half court and drained a shot from about 35 feet as the buzzer sounded.
Vandy’s Tyrin Lawrence drained a three-pointer from the right corner as the horn went as Vanderbilt snapped an 11-game skid against the Volunteers last Wednesday. In that game, the Commodores had to foul five times in a seven-second span while trailing 65-63 to put Vescovi at the line with 8 seconds remaining. The senior from Montevideo, Uruguay, who had scored 14 points, missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Vandy the last shot.
“We all hurt for Santi[ago]. I mean he’s hurting,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said. “I hurt for him because he knows he had a chance two games in a row to put a game on the ice. But he’s won a lot of games for us. … Where we are today and where we’ve been, he’s had a lot to do with it.”
Vanderbilt 7-footer Liam Robbins has been huge since returning from injury two weeks ago. The native of Davenport, Iowa, and transfer from Minnesota, is averaging 21.6 points per game during the Commodores’ three-game winning streak.
Robbins was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday by the conference office after 23.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in wins over Tennessee and Florida.
Robbins had 32 points on 10 of 18 shooting, including 3 of 4 from three-point land, in a quality big-man matchup against Florida’s Colin Castleton in an 88-80 win at Florida on Saturday. Trey Thomas also had a perfect shooting game against the Gators, going 5 of 5 from the floor, 4 of 4 from three-point range, and 2 of 2 from the line for 16 points.
Prior to that, Robbins had 14 points and 9 rebounds in the win over Tennessee.
Alabama’s Brandon Miller, who is well on his way to the SEC scoring crown and possibly SEC most valuable player, earned his sixth selection as the league’s freshman of the week on Monday.
Miller, a 6-9 freshman from Antioch, Tenn., averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3 assists in wins over Florida and Auburn last week.
Miller’s sixth selection as SEC Freshman of the Week tied the school record with James Robinson in 1991.
2 for the road
Arkansas joined the list of SEC teams who have won two or more SEC road games with last week’s convincing 88-73 win at Kentucky, then the quartet of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Mississippi State followed suit with big upsets on Saturday.
Alabama leads the way with a 6-0 SEC road record, followed by Tennessee and Texas A&M, which are both 4-2.
Auburn and Kentucky are both 3-3 in SEC road contests, while Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are 2-4. Georgia is just 1-5 in SEC road games and LSU is 0-6.
Alabama and Texas A&M remain the only SEC teams with unblemished home records in league play (6-0), while Missouri is next at 5-1. The foursome of Arkansas, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee all lost home games on Saturday to fall to 4-2 in SEC home games. Ole Miss and South Carolina (0-6) have yet to win a league game in front of the home folks.
The road team has won each of the last five meetings in the Missouri-Tennessee series after the Tigers pulled off an 86-85 shocker on Saturday.
The stretch of road wins dates to Jan. 7, 2020, when the Volunteers won 69-59 at Mizzou Arena. The following season, Tennessee pounded the Tigers 73-53 in a conference opener in Columbia, Mo., but Missouri got revenge three weeks later with a 73-64 road win.
In the lone meeting between the teams last season, the Volunteers prevailed 80-61 on Feb. 22.
That’ll cost you
Vanderbilt was fined $250,000 by the SEC office after fans stormed the court following a 66-65 win over Tennessee last Wednesday on Tyrin Lawrence’s three-pointer at the buzzer.
The Commodores committed a fourth violation of the SEC’s access to competition area policy and their second of the school year. Fans also rushed the field at Vanderbilt Stadium following a 31-24 win over Florida on Nov. 19.
Fines levied against SEC schools are deposited into the conference’s post-graduate scholarship fund.
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