The Alabama Crimson Tide and the UT-Arlington Mavericks met in Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night for what turned out to be a November thriller. Alabama relied on its defense and Collin Sexton down the stretch to record a solid win over an excellent UT-Arlington team.
Collin Sexton turned in another dazzling performance with 29 points. Sexton has scored at least 20 points in each of his three games this season.
UT-Arlington stormed out of the gate and it looked as if Mavericks could do no wrong with the basketball. Led by the 6’9″ big man Kevin Hervey, Arlington put on an offensive clinic in the opening half.
Arlington shot 62% from the field in the second half after starting the game 6-8 from the field. Hervey looked unstoppable as he scored 13 effortless points in the first 8 minutes of the game.
Both teams struggled to get stops in the first half as the Tide and the Mavericks each operated very efficiently on the offensive end.
Alabama made a late first half run that was capped off with a slam from freshman wing Herbert Jones. UT-Arlington carried a 41-36 lead over Alabama into halftime.
After the break, Alabama was able to ramp up its defensive intensity. The Crimson Tide began to record stops and force turnovers that resulted in points on the other end.
Alabama’s claimed its first lead of the night when Collin Sexton tore out on a fast break and found Avery Johnson Jr. in the corner for a three that gave the Tide a 54-53 lead with 12:12 remaining in the contest.
This game came down to the wire and every possession was critical down the stretch.
After several minutes of buckets being exchanged, it appeared as if Alabama would pull away when Collin Sexton drove hard and got a tough floater to fall while drawing a foul. Sexton would miss the foul shot and Alabama owned a 77-73 lead with 29 seconds to go.
However, UT-Arlington point guard Erick Neal was not about to go down without a fight. Neal sank a a difficult, off-balance three pointer to cut the Alabama lead to just 1 with 19 seconds left in the contest.
On the subsequent Alabama possession, the Crimson Tide was called for a 5 second violation on the inbounds, which returned possession to the Mavericks.
UT-Arlington held the ball for the last shot. Erick Neal sized up Collin Sexton and drove strongly to his left. Neal picked up his dribble at the free throw line, fumbled the ball, and released a tough fadeaway jumper just before the horn. Excellent defense by Sexton caused Neal’s game winning attempt to fall short and Alabama survived by a score of 77-76.
If you look at Alabama’s non-conference schedule, teams like Arizona, Minnesota, and Texas will grab your attention. While those games are match ups against great teams with elite talent, it’s the games against high quality mid majors such as UT-Arlington, Mercer, and Louisiana Tech that make the Tide’s out of conference slate so grueling.
That was clearly evident on Tuesday night in Coleman Coliseum. Arlington brought back several pieces from a team that won 27 games a year ago. A well-experienced team, the Mavericks started 5 seniors against Alabama. Arlington is favored to win the Sun Belt and Kevin Hervey was voted the conference’s preseason player of the year. His teammate, point guard Erick Neal, could very well challenge him for the award.
I say that to say this: this was a solid win for Alabama. NCAA.com college basketball correspondent Andy Katz had this to say on Twitter following the game:
— Andy Katz (@TheAndyKatz) November 22, 2017
Alabama, with a lineup led by freshmen, was able to make more winning plays than the veteran heavy Mavericks.
Collin Sexton’s 29 points will get their fair share of deserved attention, but I was really impressed with freshman Herbert Jones in this game.
Jones proved to be the best defensive matchup for Alabama on Kevin Hervey. After an outstanding first 30 minutes, Hervey was held to just two points and zero field goals in the final 10 minutes of game time. The athleticism, length, and defensive instincts of Herbert Jones were the primary reasons for Hervey’s late game struggles.
Jones stuffed the stat sheet for Alabama. He recorded 7 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists. He also drew 4 charges on the defensive end.
Collin Sexton carried the scoring load for Alabama as the only Tide player in double digits. Sexton was vicious off the dribble and made some difficult pull up jumpers. Sexton also showed his flashy quickness and was able to get to the rim in transition.
This was the type of game Alabama needed to experience to prepare them for bigger games down the road. The Crimson Tide made key defensive adjustments after the break and held UT-Arlington to 39% shooting in the second half after the Mavericks were 62% from the field in the first half.
A young Alabama team showed a great deal of toughness and resiliency to come back and claim a big win over a really good UT-Arlington team. We will see just how good of a win it may turn out to be in March.