ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Alabama freshman Collin Sexton sunk a game-winning running jumper as the buzzer sounded to lift the No. 9 seed Alabama past No. 8 seed Texas A&M in dramatic fashion, 71-70, in the second round of the 2018 SEC Tournament Thursday afternoon at the Scottrade Center.
"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."
Sexton took the inbounds pass with 4.4 seconds remaining from underneath his own basket, raced down the floor and softly lifted a finger roll over the outstretched arms of the Aggies' defense to give the Tide the buzzer-beating win.
Moments earlier, Texas A&M appeared to have won the game when T.J. Starks drilled a three-point to give his team a 70-69 lead, erasing a 12-point second half deficit. However, Sexton capped off a tremendous game when he connected on the game-winner to snap the Tide's five-game losing streak.
"We called a time out, and Coach just told me to race it up the floor and get to the basket," Sexton said. "He knew how fast I could get there, so he said just get to the basket and get a layup for us.
"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 about his game-winner. "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 had a lights-out game, registering his 13th 20-point contest of the season, scoring a game-high 27 points, to go along with five assists, three rebounds and one steal. Sophomore Dazon Ingram and junior Donta Hall also reached double figures, as Ingram collected 13 points, a team-high of nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Hall totaled 11 points and five rebounds. In his first start of the season, freshman Galin Smith put up eight points, while adding three rebounds and a block.
After taking a 35-28 lead at the half, the Crimson Tide remained hot to begin the second half, using an 8-0 run over a span of 1:20 for its largest lead of the day, 54-42, at the 13:03 mark. Alabama continued to maintain its lead, 62-56, with 7:36 to go, but, A&M started to find its rhythm, going on a seven-minute 11-5 run to tie the game at 67 apiece with 40 seconds left on the game clock.
With the game on the line, Sexton put the Tide up by two after a jumper with 17 seconds left, but Starks fired back with a clutch three-pointer to give the Aggies the one-point edge with four seconds left on the clock, setting up Sexton's heroics.
The Crimson Tide shot 45.2 percent in the second half (14-of-31) to total 47.5 percent (28-of-59) for the contest while holding Texas A&M to just 39.3 percent from the floor (24-of-61) in the game. Despite the Aggies outrebounding the Tide, 44-33, and owning the advantage in second chance points, 19-4, the Crimson Tide's edge in points in the paint, 36-32, and three-straight field goals down the stretch were enough to seize the win.
Starks led the Aggie offense with 23 points, to go along with three rebounds, four assists and steal, while Admon Gilder put up 15 points, made three steals and pulled down four rebounds.
Up next, the Crimson Tide will face No. 1-seed Auburn on Friday in the quarterfinal round at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. Tipoff is set for noon CT and will be broadcasted on ESPN.
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