The senior-laden team from Texas-Arlington stormed past Alabama early. But the Crimson Tide navigated back into control, led by one of its star freshmen.
No. 25 Alabama (4-0) beat Texas-Arlington (2-1) 77-76. Freshman Collin Sexton led Alabama with 29 points and four assists against just one turnover. Sexton helped Alabama weather the first-half fireworks from Texas-Arlington, then keep control late four points in the final two minutes.
“I feel like when the light’s on, I’ve got to play,” Sexton said. “I’ve got to show up. Everybody on our team was showing up.”
The Mavericks started four seniors and a graduate transfer. They set a breathless pace, running up 17-7 lead by the first media timeout. Texas-Arlington was unstoppable for much of the first half, knocking down 20-of-32 shots and 5-of-11 three-pointers.
Alabama trailed by as many as 12 in the first half, but cut the score to 46-41 at the intermission. The Crimson Tide hung close with a strong offensive performance of its own, going 15-of-28 from the field before the break.
“We changed our coverage at halftime,” coach Avery Johnson said. “We changed the lineup that started the game in the second half, because they put us in a bind. Went with a little bit more of a quicker lineup and it seemed to pay dividends for us.”
Alabama took its first lead when Avery Johnson Jr. knocked down a three-pointer with 12:12 to go. Sexton delivered the assist. The teams traded the lead for a short while until Herb Jones knocked down another three-pointer to give Alabama a 61-60 lead. Sexton had the assist on that basket as well.
“We had a stretch there where we thought we were going to get away from them,” Johnson said.
That basket started an 8-0 run that gave Alabama a lead it wouldn’t surrender. Texas-Arlington tied the game at 73 with 1:28 to go, but Sexton knocked down two free throws to put Alabama back on top. He made another basket with 29 seconds remaining to make the score 77-73, but Texas-Arlington responded with a three to cut the lead to one.
Alabama couldn’t inbound the ball over after that, turning the ball over to give Texas-Arlington one final chance. But Sexton hung with senior guard Erick Neal, forcing him to lose his handle for a moment. Neal threw up a desperation shot with time expiring that had little chance.
“Coach called it the alley, and if you turn him more than four or five times then that’s a good possession,” Sexton said. “I turned him a few times and got him to shoot a tough shot.”
Momentum also shifted as Jones made his presence felt. He finished with seven points, nine rebounds, four steals and four charges.
“The stats are blowing me away,” Johnson said. “I’m proud of Herb. Like all of our guys, he has the right DNA.”
Sexton’s 29 points were the most of his young career. He finished 8-of-15 from the field and 11-of-14 from the free throw line.
“He can do a little bit of everything,” Texas-Arlington coach Scott Cross said. “He took control of the game.”
Senior Kevin Hervey led the Mavericks with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including four three-pointers. Neal had 16 and 12 assists.
Senior Riley Norris made his season debut in the win. He came off the bench to score five points in his first game back from a hip injury.
It’s the first time Alabama has been 4-0 since 2012-13.
“I saw a team that was ready to fight for 40 minutes,” Johnson said. “For a team that was playing three freshmen at a time a lot tonight, that was a step in the right direction.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.