The SEC men's basketball tournament will feature several teams not only hoping to make a deep run in this event but also in the NCAA tournament.
Florida, Auburn, Ole Miss, Alabama and Mississippi State all entered Thursday trying to improve upon their tournament resumes, either to earn a spot in the field or solidify a better seed for next week.
In the meantime, each of these teams and others traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, with the intention of winning an SEC title. This created plenty of excitement on a busy day at Bridgestone Arena.
No. 8 Florida def. No. 9 Arkansas 66-50
No. 5 Auburn def. No. 12 Missouri 81-71
No. 10 Alabama def. No. 7 Ole Miss 62-57
No. 6 Mississippi State def. No. 11 Texas A&M 80-54
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 8 Florida; 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn; 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 10 Alabama; 7 p.m. ET (SECN)
No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 6 Mississippi State; 9 p.m. ET (SECN)
Updated bracket available at NCAA.com.
Florida 66, Arkansas 50
A big day from Keyontae Johnson was enough to lift Florida into the quarterfinals.
The freshman put himself in rare territory with 20 points and 12 rebounds in the win:
KeVaughn Allen also stepped up with 17, including key points down the stretch.
Florida entered the day with tons of pressure squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
This urgency didn't lead to a lot of success early on as Arkansas rode its star big man Daniel Gafford:
Jacob Hester @JacobHester18
#Arkansas has a game plan to get the ball in Daniel Gafford’s hands every possession. He’s getting good looks, but has to finish and not look for a foul. Will the Razorbacks continue the game plan in the 2nd half? #Florida leads at half in a must win. #SECTourney #ARKvsFLA
Gafford finished with 15 points and six rebounds despite suffering a shoulder injury in the second half. This issue appeared to limit him down the stretch.
The Gators took advantage, gaining a little bit more breathing room after just a two-point halftime lead.
Up six points with four minutes remaining, Florida scored the next 10 points in a run that helped pull away and seal the win over the tournament's No. 9 seed.
While Gafford wasn't himself down the stretch, Johnson still showed impressive energy and toughness in the post to help the favorites earn a much-needed victory.
Florida will now try to remove all doubts on Selection Sunday by upsetting No. 1 seed LSU in the quarterfinal Friday. Arkansas will hope its season can continue by getting a bid in one of the other postseason tournaments.
Auburn 81, Missouri 71
Bryce Brown scored 17 points and was one of four players in double figures for Auburn, which pulled away late for a 10-point win in its first game of the tournament.
Missouri was a one-man show for much of the night, with Jordan Geist carrying most of the scoring load. He finished with 25 points on 7-of-14 shooting (5-of-11 from three), looking extremely impressive in the process:
The guard also had 30 points in a win over Georgia on Wednesday.
Torrence Watson provided a lot of help in the second half as the freshman finished with 20 points, including six three-pointers.
Still, this wasn't enough to compete with the balanced effort from Auburn.
The Tigers exploded offensively in the second half while scoring 49 points after getting just 32 in the opening frame. They finished with 12 made three-pointers and sealed the game with its quality free-throw shooting.
Horace Spencer was also huge with a double-double off the bench, totaling 11 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and four blocks. This all-around effort was key in helping the squad reach the quarterfinals, where it will face South Carolina.
Missouri will see its season coming to an end after posting a 15-17 record. Auburn moves on to face fourth-seeded South Carolina in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Alabama 62, Ole Miss 57
A huge second-half rally helped Alabama earn a much-needed win over Ole Miss.
Down two with two minutes left, the Crimson Tide scored on consecutive possessions with buckets by Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty while facing little resistance:
Bama's defense was much better as Ole Miss didn't score for the final three minutes and 21 seconds in the loss. The squad's leading scorer during the year, Breein Tyree, finished with three points on 1-of-11 from the field.
Tevin Mack led the way with 21 points off the bench for Alabama, while the entire team contributed to the 49-30 rebounding advantage in the victory.
The Rebels were in complete control early, building a 38-24 lead by halftime behind 11 points from Devontae Shuler.
Things went much differently in the second half as Ole Miss couldn't buy a basket:
A 13-0 Alabama run erased the deficit over a four minute span, giving the squad a 44-43 lead with about 13 minutes remaining in the second half.
The game remained tight from there, with neither squad leading by more than three points until the final 20 seconds when the No. 10 seed began hitting its free throws to pull away.
The competition grows significantly in the next round for Alabama, which will now face No. 2 seed Kentucky. However, a win could be what it takes to get the Tide into the NCAA tournament field.
Mississippi is likely safely in the field, but the latest loss could be damaging for the seed going into next week.
Mississippi State 80, Texas A&M 54
While Mississippi State was tested before pulling away from Texas A&M in the second half for a comfortable victory last Saturday, this contest was never in doubt.
The Bulldogs jumped all over the Aggies right from the start, opening the game on a 25-9 run. That proved to be a hole Texas A&M could never climb out of.
Texas A&M shot just 31 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, making only nine field goals while committing five turnovers. Meanwhile, Mississippi State shot an impressive 51.9 percent, helping it take a 15-point lead into the locker room.
And it only got worse for the Aggies in the second half.
The Bulldogs used a 23-12 run coming out of the break to grow their lead to 26 by the midway point of the second half, and from that point on, the rest of the game was just a formality, as the margin eventually swelled to 30.
The blowout can be best described in one stat: With less than two minutes to play, Texas A&M had barely made more total field goals (16) than Mississippi State had made three-pointers (11). That's a recipe for disaster.
Five Bulldogs players scored at least nine points in a balanced attack, with Lamar Peters leading the way with 15 points.
Sophomore guard Savion Flagg scored a game-high 21 points in a losing effort for the Aggies.
Mississippi State's victory earned the Bulldogs a matchup with the third-seeded Tennessee Volunteers on Friday night. Tennessee won the only meeting during the regular season 71-54 back on March 5.