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Alabama Basketball survives trying to give the game away to Mercer

Final score: 80-79

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Alabama faces a small school program with a knack for hitting 3-pointers.

It seems like every team the Tide has played so far this year has fit that category, and Mercer entered this game as only the #5 overall 3-point shooting team in the whole nation.

Early on, it looked like Alabama was going to run away with the game as Mercer seemed determined to turn the ball over in some way or another on nearly every possession for the first few minutes. The Tide responded with some really good offensive looks and ball movement, though some unlucky bounces in the rim kept the score from getting too out of hand.

Once Mercer settled down, though, they began to play their slow-paced tempo and swung the ball around the three-point line over and over and over and over again until someone got an open shot... and made it. It felt like they never missed.

Collin Sexton got two fouls in the first few minutes of the game, and sat out a huge chunk of the first half because of that. Meanwhile, Braxton Key, in his season debut, showed that he still had a lot of rust that needs to be knocked off. He led the team with 3 turnovers, and finished the game back on the bench.

At the end of the first, Alabama was down 31-35, and looking a bit discombobulated.

Then, led by Donta Hall on both offense and defense, they opened up the second half with a 9-3 run before settling back into trading points with Mercer for a while. Collin Sexton showed back up and, along with fellow freshman John Petty, the two really took over the offense for much of the second half. Sexton was a phenom when driving into the lane and drawing all kinds of fouls, while Petty dished out some beautiful assists and knocked down a few threes of his own. Freshman Alex Reese even got in on the action and nailed a couple of 3 pointers.

The final few minutes looked all the world like Alabama was going to win by a solid 8-10 point margin. Mercer had to start fouling to save time and Dazon Ingram went 1-and-1 to put Alabama up 80-72.

After that was a nightmarish series of events that weren’t even plausible enough to have been a real nightmare. Mercer got a quick score to get to 74. When Alabama went to inbound the ball, the whole team went off down the court while Sexton tried to body out two guys to receive the inbound pass. It didn’t work, and the ball was knocked back out of bounds. After some review, the officials decided that the ball touched Sexton last.

Okay. Fine. It’s still a 6 point game with under 20 seconds to play. Mercer actually went to the basket instead of going for a 3 pointer, and drew the foul, making their two free throws.

It’s still fine. A good inbounds play had Sexton and Petty cross on the baseline and Sexton drew the double team while Petty got the ball. A second later, the two men were pressing Petty, who decided that, instead of holding the ball and forcing them to foul, he would launch a 15-yard deep out to make Tom Brady proud to Donta Hall on the other side of the court. It got picked off, and a few seconds later, Mercer hit a wide open 3-pointer with 3 seconds to go in the game.

The inbound pass went immediately to Riley Norris, who was as wide open as a UFO landing in North Dakota, and Norris, with all of his veteran poise, fumbled it straight out of bounds.

With exactly 1 second on the clock, Mercer drew up a play to get their best scorer, Ria’n Holland, a shot. Collin Sexton contested the shot, and it ended up falling short of the rim.

So, Alabama survived. But that’s about all we can say about it.

Sexton led the team with 21 points and 4 assists, and even went 9/9 on his free throws. (100% from behind the line? INCONCEIVABLE). Petty was right behind him with 18 points, 12 of which came from three pointers, and added 3 assists, a block, and a steal to his stat sheet.

Dazon Ingram was a stabilizing force all night too, often coming up big with a steal and a breakaway just when Alabama needed it the most. He has 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. He hit 5/6 free throws as well.

Alex Reese (WHO??) was actually the next leading scorer with 10 points. The 250-pound freshman hit a couple of three point shots, a long-range jumper, and one tip-in under the basket. It was good to see him shooting with confidence despite his lack of playing time so far this season.

Donta Hall also had a huge game. He scored 9 points and had 6 rebounds, but his dunks were generally of the soul-shattering variety, including one where I swear his arms turned to rubber as he one-handedly snagged a rebound that was at least 4 feet over his head and already behind him, then immediately slammed the ball down into the waiting basket. He also was credited with 4 blocks, but he also had one questionably taken away for goaltending while also making an impact by forcing shooters to shoot around him.

It was good to see Braxton Key back on the court, but he has a long ways to go the get back into the swing of things. The team as a whole is giving up a lot on defense, and leaving the offense with very little margin of error. John Petty had some really nice plays tonight that weren’t just three point shooting, but negated most of the positive feelings with his turnover in the waning seconds of the game. And Alex Reese was the pleasant surprise of the night.

Now Coach Avery Johnson has two days to get his team ready for Friday’s high-profile matchup with Texas.

Buckle up!