Florida assistant coach John Pelphrey had vivid memories of the 2008 SEC Tournament.
Pelphrey was in his second season as head coach at Arkansas, having led the Razorbacks to the SEC Tournament final for the second straight season. But the tournament was remembered more for a natural disaster that literally rocked the Georgia Dome on Friday night. A tornado ripped a hole in the roof of the Georgia Dome and damaged downtown Atlanta, forcing the tournament to be moved to Georgia Tech’s Alexander Gymnasium.
Pelphrey’s Razorbacks lost in the SEC finals to Georgia, a low-seed who overcame the odds to win four games in four days to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The trials and tribulations that SEC officials went through to keep the tournament going were chronicled in an ESPN documentary called “Miracles 3” that first aired earlier this month.
“It was one of my great disappointments,” Pelphrey said. “Obviously, you couldn’t do anything about the tragedy but we’re in the finals and that would have been a large crowd there for us. Arkansas fans really travel. Instead we had like 200 people there.”
Attendance restrictions due to the move from the Georgia Dome to Alexander Gym forced the league to cut the allotment of each team to 500 tickets. Florida was knocked out of the tournament on Thursday night and had left Atlanta before the tornado hit.
“It was uncomfortable for everybody,” Pelphrey said. “It really was.”
Pelphrey’s Razorbacks upset SEC East top-seed Tennessee on Saturday to reach the finals. But Georgia won two games in one day on Saturday — against Kentucky and Mississippi State — to reach Sunday’s final game. Then, the Bulldogs knocked off Arkansas 66-57 to win the championship.
“They were playing great and they had beaten us earlier in the year,” Pelphrey said. “(Former Georgia coach) Dennis Felton did a great job with that team.”