HUNTSVILLE | Huntsville is all about rocket science but for much of Wednesday night’s basketball game against Mercer, the problem for Alabama was chemistry.
After a disjointed and disappointing first half, the Crimson Tide finally found a functional freshman-filled formula —sparked by some strong minutes by Alex Reese along with his more high-profile first-year teammates Collin Sexton and John Petty — as Alabama scraped by with an 80-79 win by averting what would have been an epic collapse in the final 12 seconds.
The Crimson Tide had an eight-point lead when Mercer’s Stephon Jelks hit a layup with 11.8 seconds remaining. UA’s Sexton then fumbled the inbounds pass and Mercer’s Demetre Rivers was fouled, hitting two free throws to make it 80-76. Petty then threw an ill-advised pass for a second turnover and Rivers’ 3-pointer trimmed the lead to one point.
A third turnover ensued on the inbounds, giving the Bears possession in the frontcourt with one second remaining. Rian Holland of Mercer got a good look at a 3-pointer, but it rimmed out, to the tremendous relief of Alabama.
The Crimson Tide (8-3) had staged a rally of its own to build its late lead. UA was down 56-49 with 9:48 to play when a Reese 3-pointer lit the fuse on a 16-2 run.
Sexton led Alabama with 21 points. Petty had 18 in his return to his Huntsville hometown and Reese added 10, including eight in the second half run.
The Crimson Tide struggled throughout the first half, shooting an abysmal 6.3 percent from 3-point range (1-for-16). Mercer made six of 14 3-point attempts and enjoyed a 35-31 lead at intermission.
“No excuses,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “We told Braxton (Key) today that it is go time. We are not going to be tinkering with the lineups for the next two or three weeks.
“The great thing is that this team takes coaching. I think they will learn from this. We’ll get back to the drawing board. It’s critical to have the right guy in-bounding the ball. We’ve had tryouts for that but will have more. “
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.