ST. LOUIS (AP) — Auburn’s offense was flowing at the end of the first half. Desean Murray hit his third 3-pointer and ripped off five straight points to put the Tigers up 41-31 over the Crimson Tide at halftime.
Then, the Collin Sexton show started.
Sexton scored 31 points and Alabama used a strong second half to defeat No. 16 Auburn 81-63 Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The Crimson Tide started the second half on a 28-3 run keyed by three consecutive 3s by Sexton. Alabama’s surge put the Tigers away early in the half, and the Crimson Tide (19-14) outscored Auburn 50-22 after the break.
“I didn’t raise my voice,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “I used understandable English, no bad words, and we just talked about how we needed to improve in the second half, and they did it.”
Mustapha Heron led Auburn (25-7) with 18 points, 11 of which came in the first half. Desean Murray scored 15 points, all in the first half. The Tigers moved the ball well on offense and drilled seven 3s in the first half.
By the time halftime arrived, it was all Sexton. The freshman scored 21 second-half points. The performance came after he scored 27 points and hit the game-winning shot against Texas A&M on Thursday.
Auburn’s shooting struggles continued. Jared Harper finished 2 of 11 with seven points. Bryce Brown shot 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. The Tigers shot just 24 percent in the second half and 1-for-14 from 3-point range.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We did what we wanted to do in the first half. At the start of the second half, they came down and flipped the table on us really quickly.”
Alabama: Sexton has been awesome for the Tide all year, but he has especially come alive in the SEC Tournament. His dominance here may already have earned the Tide a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Auburn: The Tigers are a shell of their midseason selves right now. Auburn’s offense looked dynamic in the first half, but the team imploded down the stretch. The Tigers have lost four of their last six games and their NCAA Tournament seed continues to drop.
On his way off the court following Auburn’s loss, Pearl appeared to bump into Alabama strength and conditioning coach Lou DeNeen. “I think he may have clipped me, and then he said something to me,” Pearl said after the game. “Of course, I should be able to walk off the floor without having somebody stand in front of me and try to make contact with me. So that was all it was.”
Alabama came into the SEC Tournament on a five-game losing streak and in danger of falling out of NCAA contention. But after dominating Auburn, the Tide are at 19 wins and have won six ranked games this season. Johnson made his pitch to the committee following the game.
“We feel we have one of the most impressive resumes with any team in the country with all our top-25 wins, quadrant-one wins, winning on a neutral floor, back-to-back games in the SEC Tournament against two outstanding teams that are projected and supposedly already in the tournament,” he said.
“When we came in this tournament, we had to win games,” Sexton added.
Auburn spent much of its season either in or around the Top 10 in The Associated Press poll, but the Tigers have encountered shooting slumps at times late in the season. Auburn’s underwhelming finish may make them susceptible to an upset in the NCAA Tournament, as Pearl acknowledged postgame.
“We’ll see where our draw’s going to be, but let’s say we’re in the 4, 5 area,” Pearl said. “I’ve been a 12 before, and I’ve beaten the 5. But the most interesting thing about the 5-12 matchups is anything can happen in those matchups.”
Alabama takes on the winner of Kentucky vs. Georgia in the tournament semifinals Saturday.
Auburn waits to see its postseason fate on Sunday.
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