Approximately 24 hours after Alabama’s Collin Sexton hit a game-winning 14-foot floater to beat Texas A&M, the freshman hit a career-high six 3-pointers to lead the Crimson Tide to an upset victory over 1-seed Auburn, 81-63 on Friday afternoon in St. Louis.
Sexton scored 21 of his 31 points in the closing stanza after the Tide trailed 41-31 at the half. Alabama outscored the Tigers 50-22 in the second half, holding Bruce Pearl’s squad to their lowest point total in a half in the 2017-18 season.
"Coach just told us to keep fighting and don't let this get us down, because we were only down 10 points and we had 20 minutes to go," Sexton said. "Once we got stops, coach told us to just run. And when I run, my teammates found me, and I was open. They told me, every time I'm open, just shoot it. Don't worry about missing or anything else."
Tigers forward Desean Murray led the SEC Champions’ offense in the first 20 minutes with 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting. All-SEC snub Mustapha Heron contributed 11 in the opening half, but the remainder of Auburn’s offense shot only 5-of-19.
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson adjusted the defensive approach at halftime, forcing Auburn into a 3-point shooting barrage.
Throughout their SEC regular season championship run, this boded well for the conference’s best offense. At the SEC Tournament however, long-range shots plagued the Tigers late, with only 1-of-14 shots made after halftime.
“It was a tale of two halves. We did what we wanted to do in the first half,” Pearl said. “At the start of the second half, they came down and flipped the table on us real quickly.”
Sexton guided Alabama’s offense through video-game like plays amid an outlandish 28-3 run to open the second half. In addition to the scoring uproar off 10-for-16 shooting, Jared Harper’s high school teammate finished at 7 rebounds and a 5-for-5 clip at the free-throw line, playing 34 minutes on the floor.
Oh my.. Collin Sexton. pic.twitter.com/uCGekNiIMs— Clint Lamb (@ClintRLamb) March 9, 2018
On the other end, Auburn didn’t make a field goal for over 10 minutes amid the run. Second team All-SEC selections Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, who fueled the Auburn offense in the regular season, combined to shoot 6-for-23.
The quarterfinal matchup was the first time since 2004 that the top-seeded team lost in its opening game (No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 8 Vanderbilt).
"I just want them to get excited about the fact that we're going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003," Pearl said. "Losing today doesn't take any of the shine off of what this team accomplished. We just weren't able to build on it by winning three games here and winning our next championship."
Auburn now awaits its NCAA Tournament fate this coming Selection Sunday. Pearl’s team has now been bounced in its first SEC Tournament game for the third-straight season.