ST. LOUIS — In each of the Alabama’s final three possessions, Collin Sexton simply proved he was the best player on the floor.
The Crimson Tide freshman sensation nearly single-handedly kept Alabama’s NCAA tournament at-large hopes alive with baskets in each of the last three trips down the floor including a coast-to-coast lay-in as time expired to allow the Crimson Tide to escape with a 71-70 victory over Texas A&M.
“You know like when you’re in the gym sometimes and you just imagine stuff like that happens, and you’ve always got to be prepared for that,” Sexton said. “When you’re doing, like, home drills and stuff, you weave through and try to get to the basket. So it was just like practice.”
Sexton finished the afternoon with a game-high 27 points, 18 of which came in a second half where Alabama (18-14) led for all but 4.4 seconds until Sexton’s game-winning floater hit nothing but the bottom of the net. Sexton also dished out a game-high five assists before deciding to take over the Alabama offense in the final 90 seconds of this contest.
The Tide’s victory guarantees the Southeastern Conference tournament will be providing a rubber match to the Alabama-Auburn season series. With a victory over Texas A&M in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon, the Crimson Tide faces a third matchup against top-seeded Auburn after both rivals won their home games in the regular season.
“Our guys, I’m proud of them. I’m as proud of them as I’ve been since I’ve been here at Alabama for obvious reasons,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. “They fought hard. They responded to adversity. We got stuck against their zone in the second half, but they just persevered. We had our moments where we looked like a really dominant team in certain stretches today, but take your hats off to our team. They were strong mentally. They showed some maturity.”
Alabama may have revived its NCAA tournament at-large chances with a SEC tournament win over a Texas A&M squad that defeated them 68-66 just five days earlier in the regular-season finale.
Only one half of the Texas A&M dynamic frontcourt duo was in stellar form Thursday afternoon as Tyler Davis finished with a near double-double of seven points and 10 rebounds. Robert Williams III was held scoreless for the first 25 minutes of the contest and finished with just six points. Davis struggled with foul trouble in a second half where he had only one shot attempt and one rebound in the first 10 minutes coming out of the halftime locker room.
Texas A&M (20-12) attempted to make a late run, cutting the deficit to one with 4 minutes and 55 seconds left, but Alabama, which had lost five in a row in its longest losing streak in 14 years before its trip to St. Louis, held the Aggies to just 39 percent shooting.
Tide sophomore guard Dazon Ingram provided 13 points in just his second double-digit scoring effort since the beginning of February.
The third rivalry matchup between Alabama and Auburn will take place at Scottrade Center on ESPN at noon Friday. Alabama is 3-1 this season against teams ranked in the top 16 of the RPI this season and only 15 teams in the nation have more Quadrant 1 (home games vs. teams RPI ranked 1-30, neutral games vs. 1-50, and away games vs. 1–75) wins than Alabama’s six this season.