Unanimous Champs: How men’s basketball clinched its first SEC title in 30 years

Four words: Jones. Petty. Reese. Quinerly.


Courtesy of Alabama Athletics

Alexander Plant | @aplant63, Sports Editor

The Alabama men’s basketball team achieved two of its top three goals over the last two weeks: become SEC regular season and tournament champions. Teams of past years have been just as talented if not more, but three pointers and maturity are the difference makers in this season. 

“I just want to reiterate how excited I am for our players,” Coach Nate Oats said after Alabama beat LSU 80-79 to win the SEC Championship. “They deserve it. They’ve played the right way. They’ve bought into what we’re trying to get them to do.”

The returning leadership from a rare senior class is what Oats and the team credit their success to. Seniors Herb Jones, John Petty Jr. and Alex Reese were the staples in all aspects of the game Oats had designed. That plan wasn’t a mistake. All three players and Oats had the same mindset coming into the 2020-21 season.

“I think those three seniors—Herb and Petty and Reese—are all from the state of Alabama, huge Alabama fans, came here to win a championship,” Oats said. “ The fact that I’ve been able to be a part of their journey here these last two years, just super excited for them that they were able to close this senior year out with two championships—one regular-season and a tournament championship.”

Arguably one of the most mature moves of the season was Reese’s decision to come off the bench. After starting 25 of the 31 games last season as a junior, Reese was supposed to return to the starting lineup this year. But one of the most important aspects of a Nate Oats team is depth. So Reese volunteered to come off the bench to help the second unit. 

Although his stats don’t reflect it, Reese’s defense was the most improved part of his game. He transformed his game from being just a shooter to a good post defender, and it was all because he realized what it took to win.

“That’s what we came here to do,” Reese said. “Me, Herb and JP came in here to change the culture and get us in the winning direction… That’s what we’ve been working for all summer, that’s been our goal since we got back to campus. … Ever since we got back, we’ve been working for it, and the work’s starting to show and we’ve been playing pretty well.”

The dark horse of the team, sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly, started off the season in the starting lineup. But once Alabama reached SEC play, Quinerly became the sixth man of the team, which kept him off the bench for the majority of the rest of the season. 

Although most see Quinerly as a snub for the sixth man of the year award, he took his best game into the SEC tournament. Quinerly averaged 15.7 points per game on 59% shooting and became the spark that the Crimson Tide needed during end-of-game runs, especially in the Tennessee game. Quinerly was named the MVP of the SEC tournament after his trio of dominant performances.

“So happy for Quinerly, really happy for his family,” Oats said. “I saw them up in the stands, his mom was crying.”

Just days earlier, the head coach could have predicted this moment.

“Let’s go win the tournament MVP. I coached four of them at Buffalo, one as an assistant and three as the head coach,” Oats told Quinerly before the tournament. “It’s time to add a fifth one.” 

Instead of taking credit for himself after winning MVP, Quinerly praised everyone else from the team. To him and every other player, the championship was what mattered more than anything.

“It means a lot,” Quinerly said after the game. “I’ve been through a lot these last couple years, so being blessed to be named the MVP of the tournament, it’s just a blessing. And I’m just so happy my family got to watch. All credit to my teammates. Without them, I wouldn’t have really won it. So the confidence that they put in me, we just all believe in each other. It’s just a great group of guys. The feeling, I can’t really explain it, but it’s an amazing feeling.”

Similar to last season, Alabama had nine games that were decided by five or less points. In the 2019-20 season, Alabama went 3-5 in those games. This year the Crimson Tide showed dramatic improvement by going 6-3 in those close games. That most likely wouldn’t happen if not for the dedication that the three returning seniors put in. 

So far, a regular season and tournament championship are their rewards with March Madness next up. Don’t be surprised if the Crimson Tide goes on to win it all.

Alabama opens up the NCAA Tournament against Iona at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday, March 20, at 3 p.m. CT.