By Chris DePew
March 8, 2018
Collin Sexton’s ninth field goal of the day was a floating scoop shot as time expired to lift ninth-seeded Alabama past No. 8 Texas A&M 71-70 in the second round of the SEC Tournament in St. Louis.
What did we learn today?: There’s a reason for Crimson Tide fans to watch Sunday’s NCAA selection show after all. Despite the exuberance of some TV talking heads, the Crimson Tide is no lock at this point to make the Big Dance. But with Bama down to 4.4 seconds to end a five-game losing streak and save its season, Sexton took the inbounds pass, turned on his afterburners, weaved around a couple of Aggies who helpfully played like gray-clad traffic cones, took flight from a step inside the foul line and hoisted up a one-handed rainbow that arced high enough to avoid being swatted by A&M’s Robert Williams and fell gracefully into the net. But instead of an early exit that would have absolutely killed any remaining March Madness hopes, the Tide now sits squarely inside the bubble conversation and can lock up a bid against its archrival tomorrow. And while the ending was shaky in a game that should have been put away, Bama played with more confidence than it had shown in weeks. The team that was on the floor much of the day at the Scottrade Center has a chance against any team left in the field.
What was the best part of the game?: Galin Smith certainly made the most of his first college start. Paired with Donta Hall to counteract Texas A&M’s size, Smith scored eight points to go with three rebounds in 23 minutes and did a credible enough job on defense that Hall was able to play just 25 minutes. Williams and Tyler Davis each had 10 rebounds (and Williams added seven blocks) but combined for just 13 points as A&M weirdly went away from its size advantage and leaned on the backcourt for scoring. In three meetings this season, Bama held the Aggies to an average of 65 points, 10 below their usual output this season.
Who was the star?: Hard to believe that Sexton had just one field goal midway through the first half. He finished with 27 points, shot better than 50 percent from the floor including 3-for-6 from 3-point range and added five assists. It was the sixth time he put up more than 20 points on an SEC opponent, but the first time Alabama actually won with him doing it. On the day where James Robinson got honored as a SEC legend, the Tide finally broke out of the old “Hollywood” offense where four guys stood around and watched the superstar do all the work. Dazon Ingram (13 points) and Hall (11) joined Sexton in double figures.
What were the biggest concerns?: Just as the Crimson Tide was starting to pull away, Sexton made a boneheaded move early in the second half that could have flipped momentum. With Bama up 40-33 and advancing the ball back up court after recovering it on a scramble play, Sexton reached his arm out to grab the calf of Aggies point guard T.J. Starks and trip him up. Game officials were already on high alert after those two got into it last weekend and after review Sexton received a flagrant foul. Fortunately A&M only got one point out of the sequence, but it lit a fire under Starks, who scored 19 of his 23 points after halftime, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds that nearly snuffed out Bama’s season.
By this point John Petty going scoreless away from home feels like a given, but his starting spot shouldn’t. Don’t be surprised if Herbert Jones takes his place tomorrow, or even Braxton Key if Avery Johnson decides he wants to exploit a size mismatch against Auburn.
What’s next?: The top-seeded Tigers, ranked 16th in this week’s AP poll, make their Gateway City debut tomorrow at noon Central in the highest-stakes edition of the rivalry in some time. The broadcast will be on ESPN.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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