Bama Hoops Hype

RECAP: Freshmen Lead Tide to NCAA Tournament Victory

Twitter: @AlabamaMBB

Alabama is through to the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 for the first time since 2006. The Crimson Tide defeated Virginia Tech 86-83 on Thursday night in Pittsburgh behind strong performances by freshmen Collin Sexton and John Petty.

The game had 10 ties and 10 lead changes while neither team led by more than seven points. The two Alabama guards split the offensive load for most of the game and each used his own hot streak to put the Tide ahead in the back-and-forth game.

Petty knocked down three 3-pointers in the first half, including a buzzer beater that came off of a Sexton assist. The shot cut Tech’s lead to two points at the break but the Tide’s sharp shooting freshman was not done. Petty scored eight consecutive points to give Alabama a 55-52 lead with 12:50 to go. However, his biggest shot was a 3-pointer that came with 2:08 that gave his team a five-point lead.

Petty finished with 20 points and made six 3-pointers. It was the first time since Alabama’s home win over Auburn that the Huntsville-native reached the 20-point mark. He also added three rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes off the bench.

While Petty was lighting it up from the outside, Sexton had to shake off foul trouble and a slow offensive start. In the first half, Sexton scored just three points and finished with four assists, three turnovers and two fouls. The Tide’s star turned things around in the final period, scoring 22 points in 19 minutes and 54 seconds on the court.

Sexton scored 10 of the team’s final 11 points and finished with 25 points for the seventh time this season. It was his fifth consecutive game with at least 20 points. Sexton added a team-high six assists and three rebounds.

The two guards were not the only freshmen to make an impact for the Crimson Tide. Herbert Jones, Galin Smith and Alex Reese all saw playing time. The five first-year players combined for 59 of Alabama’s 86 points. They also had 13 of the team’s 19 assists, 15 of 26 rebounds, 2 of 3 steals and 2 of 3 blocks (and 11 of 17 turnovers but let’s stick with the positives).

As a team, Alabama shot 60 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc while assisting on 19 of 30 made field goals. The Crimson Tide had a plus-4 advantage in rebounds and scored 10 second chance points. Alabama’s bench outscored Virginia Tech’s 36-24.

Petty had the biggest production off the bench but Avery Johnson Jr. continued to make timely shots for the Crimson Tide. The head coach’s son scored 8 points and shot 3-for-5 from the field. All three of his made shots came when the Tide was either trailing or tied. Johnson Jr. played 10 minutes and finished with one assist and zero turnovers.

Virginia Tech loses in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year and finishes its season at 21-12. The Hokies were led by guard Justin Robinson who finished with 19 points and 7 assists before fouling out after 31 minutes.

Alabama advances to the second round to play the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats. The game will be played on Saturday and will tip off at 11:10 a.m. CT on CBS.

Caleb Turrentine is the editor for Bama Hoops Hype. You can follow him on Twitter for in-game updates at @BamaHoopsHype.

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