PITTSBURGH – Collin Sexton scored 21 of his team-high 24 points after halftime to lead Alabama to an 86-83 victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday night for the Crimson Tide’s first NCAA Tournament win in a dozen years.
John Petty kept ninth-seeded Alabama (20-15) in it while Sexton struggled during a sluggish opening half and finished with 20 points while shooting 6 of 8 on 3-pointers. Sexton found a rhythm in the second half, including a handful of big shots over the final five minutes to give the Crimson Tide a bit of breathing room in a game that featured 10 lead changes, with no team ever being up by more than seven points.
Alabama will face top-seeded Villanova in the East Region’s second round on Saturday.
Things weren’t nearly as easy for the Crimson Tide, who needed their freshman backcourt mates and a serious uptick in defensive intensity in the late going to advance to the second round for the first time since 2006.
Sexton and Petty were in elementary school back then. Now they’re the centerpiece of coach Avery Johnson’s dynamic attack with the Crimson Tide. Alabama shot 61 percent (14 of 23) from the floor in the second half, including a 17-footer from Sexton that hit the back of the rim and dropped in to put the Crimson Tide up 70-64 with 5:11 to play.
He knocked down a turnaround jumper with 1:35 remaining to push Alabama’s advantage to 77-72.
Justin Robinson and the eighth-seeded Hokies (21-12) kept coming. Robinson finished with 19 points but was called for an offensive foul with 48 seconds remaining and Virginia Tech down 78-74. Hokies coach Buzz Williams earned a technical foul after throwing paper onto the court in frustration. Sexton made one of two free throws and then added two more on Alabama’s ensuing possession to give the Crimson Tide just enough of a cushion.
Alabama needed a couple of wins in the SEC tournament, including an upset of rival Auburn, to reach the NCAAs for the first time in seven years. Eager to prove they were deserving of the bid, the Crimson Tide received a boost in pregame warmups when forward Donta Hall ran onto the court with his teammates less than a week after sustaining a concussion in a victory over Auburn.
Hall finished with 10 points and three rebounds in 25 minutes, but it was the play of Sexton and Petty that pushed the Crimson Tide into the round of 32.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.