Thursday, March 08, 2018

Staying Alive, Alabama 71 Texas A&M 70

Collin Sexton converted a buzzer-beater, teardrop runner in the lane to keep the Tide's NCAA tournament hopes alive and advance to the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. 

This game had a little bit of everything leading up to that climatic finish.  At times it looked like we had figured some things out and turned the corner, and at other times it reminded us all why we have been so frustrated with this team over the last couple of weeks. 

I'm going to take a bit of a different approach to this recap and start at the end.  The Aggies tied the game with about 40 seconds remaining, which put us in a precarious position with a 10 second differential between the game and shot clock.  There wasn't enough time left to do a 2 for 1, but there was too much time left to hold for the final shot.  Sexton made the most of it by delivering with a nice pull up jumpshot with about 17 seconds remaining. On the next possession, we switched on a screen but did not extend and allowed  TJ Starks a wide-open but deep 3, and he nailed it, putting the Aggies ahead by 1 with 4.4 seconds remaining. 

You all know what happened next.  I've probably watched this a dozen times already, and if you haven't heard Chris Stewart's call yet, it's definitely worth a listen.

Chris Stewart call

A lot happened before we got to that point.  We started Smith, which I didn't agree with at all, but he played fairly well.  He had 6 points early in the game and helped set the tone, despite having only 3 rebounds.  Some of the recent problems persisted.  I didn't like the substitution patterns, namely starting Galin and I thought we played Petty way too much on a day he clearly didn't have it.  We were also dominated on the boards again.  At one point in the first half, the Aggies had 11 offensive rebounds to our one. 

On the other hand, we looked much better offensively.  We moved Collin to the two guard for significant stretches and that seemed to get everyone more involved.  Our guards consistently beat their man off the dribble, and we did a good job in transition in the first half when the opportunity arose.  We led by 7 at halftime despite being killed on the boards.  It helped that Texas A&M played a very sloppy game. 

The Aggies switched to a zone and we actually did a good job against it.  On one possession we had great ball movement and reversed it to Dazon who made an open 3.  In another possession, we actually ran a high post set with Donta at the elbow and Galin on the low block getting a dunk! We stretched the lead to 11 and it looked like we were in total control of the game.

Then, bad Alabama returned.  The Aggies consistently converted on their 2nd or 3rd chance per possession.  While we were still in control of the tempo, Key and Ingram decided to start passing to the invisible man again.  We had at least 3 unforced turnovers when we had numbers on the break.  The few good looks we did get would not go down, and after a couple of close calls didn't go our way, the defensive effort lagged.  In a matter of minutes, the double-digit lead was gone. 

But none of that matters, Collin Sexton saved the day when it was crunch time, and hopefully that will give this team some momentum.  Sexton ended up with 27 points, and made 3 of 6 from behind the arc, where he has struggled in recent games.  Dazon also had 13 points and 9 rebounds.  He made some bad plays during our scoring drought, but really helped us overall.  Donta was also in double digits with 11 points.  Herb returned and made a big shot from the perimeter with a foot on the line and ended up with 6 points to go along with his usual outstanding defense.  We did a good job of attacking their bigs and getting Davis to the bench with 4 early fouls was key. 

I took a long lunch and watched this game at an establishment in downtown Birmingham.  It was cool to see the place packed with people who were doing the same, and it erupted in cheers when Sexton made the final shot. 

The win puts us squarely on the bubble.  I previously wrote that we would need 2 wins to make the tournament, but a lot of things have gone our way over the last couple of days, and even with a loss tomorrow I think there is a better-than-average chance we will be playing in Dayton next week.  Instead, let's get another win and be safely in the field. 

Up next, the rubber match in the quarterfinals against in-state rival and regular season SEC champion auburn.  The game will tip off at noon tomorrow on SEC Network.

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