TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The video alone tells the ridiculousness of the situation.
University of Alabama freshman guard Collin Sexton, in his fifth game as a collegiate player, was at the free throw line in the final seconds against Minnesota. After making the shot, he went around and slapped hands with his teammates along the lane like usual.
Only they weren’t there. He was celebrating with air because the only two Crimson Tide players on the court were already back getting ready to play defense.
“I didn’t think you could actually play college basketball with three players,” Sexton said.
After ejections and injuries, Alabama was down to three players by the end of tonight’s game. Didn’t stop Collin Sexton from getting invisible high fives for hitting his free throw. pic.twitter.com/wx9CcbtzkF
— Karen Howell (@karenehowell) November 26, 2017
It’s been four days since Alabama lost 89-84 in the final game of the Barclays Classic, but the legendary status of it is only beginning to be felt. It’s going to be one of those things that people will brag about being at, but no one will believe them because it’s just too preposterous.
It was a game between ranked opponents, played in Brooklyn. It wasn’t on regular TV, only Facebook Live, and played at the same time as the Iron Bowl.
That alone would make nearly anyone say, “Yeah right.”
Due to an altercation, seven Alabama players were ejected for leaving the bench, an automatic call at the collegiate level, with 13:43 left in the game. It left the Crimson Tide with just the five players who had been on the court.
Only sophomore guard Dazon Ingram subsequently fouled out and freshman guard John Petty suffered an ankle injury with 10:41 to go and the Tide trailing 67-56. Alabama was down to Sexton, senior forward/guard Riley Norris and freshman forward Galin Smith looking like they were reenacting a scene from “The Walking Dead” against the No. 14 team in the nation.
“It was a unique situation,” said Norris, who had just returned from a hip injury and Alabama had played BYU the night before so everyone was already tired. “It kind of got out of hand.”
— David Astramskas (@redapples) November 26, 2017
Yet the remaining players kept going. So did the coaches, who drew up new plays for them to try to run.
“Coach, how is this going to work?” Sexton said.
“That was probably the first time he looked at me weird,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson admitted.
Their attitude quickly changed when one of the plays worked.
“Maybe he does know what he’s talking about,” Sexton quipped.
More than anything, Johnson’s message was to not give up, and keep playing hard. Minnesota slowed the tempo, in part to run out the clock as the game seemed to be in hand, only the three outscored the Gophers down the stretch, 30-22.
Alabama shot 53.3 percent from the floor (16-for-30) and 54.5 percent from 3-point range (6-for-11) in the second half.
Norris finished with 13 points. Smith had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots while running a lot of interference.
Sexton became the first Alabama player to score 40 points since Reggie King in 1978, and set the Crimson Tide’s freshman single-game scoring record.
Although few were initially watching, word spread quickly. Even NBA star Dwyane Wade took notice.
Nothing but heart! I love the way he attack’s the game! https://t.co/s0AxwptbZl
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 26, 2017
Alabama lost, but the three received a hero’s welcome from their teammates when they got to the locker room. It was only then they started having fun with it, and they’re still at it.
For example, although playing 3-on-5 is actually something Alabama regularly does in practice, especially during trap drills, on Monday it also worked on what to do should a fight break out in a game. With forwards Donta Hall and Landon Fuller doing a Revolutionary War re-enactment, different people were assigned various responsibilities, including who would break things up and who would make sure the players didn’t leave the bench.
It was a coaching first for Johnson, who proclaimed “Donta Hall won the fight.”
Of course, there are other things Alabama needs to address and improve upon. Rebounding has been the team’s “Achilles heel” and “Slow starts are a concern,” Johnson said. “It’s taking us five, seven, 10 minutes to get our feet set defensively.”
Petty is considered day-to-day and sophomore forward Braxton Key (knee), the team’s returning leading scorer, is probably still a couple of weeks away from being available.
Yet the craziness of the three-man game, on top of the off-court issues during the offseason, is the kind of thing that can really pull a team together and get a fan base to rally.
The buzz is growing, the seats are getting filled and the No. 24 Crimson Tide (5-1) might even get a standing ovation at Coleman Coliseum before they play Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, SEC Network+).
“I just wanted to win, and I was going to do anything for my team to win,” Sexton said.
“At the end of the day, we just hate losing,” Norris added. “That’s everybody on this team.”
I am dead LMAO Collin Sexton won't be denied pic.twitter.com/UhxAnr6uVB
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) November 26, 2017
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