By Chris DePew
March 15, 2018
Freshmen Collin Sexton and John Petty combined for 45 points as No. 9 Alabama secured its first NCAA Tournament win since 2006 by outlasting No. 8 Virginia Tech 86-83 in an East Regional matchup in Pittsburgh.
What did we learn today?: Not all hot shooting nights are built the same. Alabama played an excellent 20 minutes on offense yet still found itself trailing 43-41 at halftime, as the Hokies were shooting 68 percent from the field, including 7-for-9 behind the arc. But while Virginia Tech was white-hot despite being (mostly) well-guarded, Alabama was shooting better than 59 percent on the strength of Donta Hall and Galin Smith dominating on the low blocks and good ball movement to spring the guards loose for open shots. That proved sustainable, even while VT cooled off to merely good levels. Despite getting fewer shots up, the Crimson Tide increased their scoring by shooting just a bit better, ending the game right at 60 percent. It also helped that 10 of its 20 missed shots resulted in an offensive rebound. Add in a four-point advantage at the foul line and it was just enough to reach the round of 32.
What was the best part of the game?: Getting big contributions from the entire backcourt. Bama played five different guards and each stepped up when needed. Sexton and Petty got most of the spotlight, but Dazon Ingram scored eight of his nine points in the first half and finished with four assists and seven of the Tide’s 26 rebounds. Avery Johnson Jr. was 3-for-5 from the floor and scored eight points in just 10 minutes. Herbert Jones played his usual tenacious defense and took a crucial charge in the final minute, but also contributed six points. As for Sexton, he settled down after finishing the first half with more turnovers than points, scoring 22 of his 25 after halftime and finishing with a half-dozen assists.
Who was the star?: After a long winter’s slump, Petty dazzled everyone in the glare of the national spotlight. Six 3-pointers lifted him to a 20-point night and scrambled Virginia Tech’s scouting report. He also had three assists, three rebounds and floor burns from throwing his body around fighting for loose balls.
What were the biggest concerns?: Every starter picked up at least three fouls, and three of them drew four whistles each. Ingram was the most bizarre poster child, going from zero fouls to four in just over three minutes after halftime. Players on both sides were playing hard, but not always in control, which led to a rash of offensive fouls. Not only does Bama need to dial the emotions back a notch, it must overcome its season-long problem of poor foul shooting. The Crimson Tide was just 18-for-27 at the line, and Sexton and Ingram had eight of the nine misses. Squandering a third of the points available from the stripe is a good way to exit the Big Dance too soon.
What’s next?: Time to buckle up Cinderella’s slipper. No. 1 seed Villanova is next up for an 11:10 a.m. tipoff on CBS.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris