ST. LOUIS (AP) — Collin Sexton wasn’t quite ready to put Alabama’s postseason chances in the hands of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Instead, the standout freshman took the Crimson Tide’s fate into his own hands — a plan that kept the school’s NCAA hopes alive for another day.
Sexton drove the length of the court in the final seconds and hit a floater at the buzzer to give ninth-seeded Alabama (18-14) a 71-70 win over Texas A&M on Thursday. He did so just moments after T.J. Starks hit a 3-pointer to put the Aggies up 70-69 with 4.4 seconds remaining, taking the inbounds pass following a timeout and racing up the court for the game winner.
“Coach (Avery Johnson) just told me to race it up the floor to get to the basket,” Sexton said. “He knew how fast I could get there so he said, ‘Just get to the basket, get a layup for us.’ “
Sexton finished with 27 points, none bigger than his final two. Alabama led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but the No. 8 seed Aggies (20-12) rallied and went up by one point after Starks’ 3-pointer.
That’s when Sexton took the inbounds pass and raced up the court for his winning shot. Dazon Ingram scored 13 points for the Crimson Tide, and Donta Hall added 11.
The win snaps a five-game losing streak for the Crimson Tide, and it provides a much-needed boost for school’s case for a bid to the NCAA Tournament — which it is trying to reach for the first time since 2012.
“I think (the pressure) is motivating,” Johnson said. “They understand that there are not a lot of chances left, no matter how far you go … I just told them, ‘Are you going to be able to look at yourself in the mirror after this game?’ “
Starks matched his career high with 23 points in the loss for Texas A&M, and Admon Gilder had 15.
The Aggies had won three in a row entering the game, including a <a target=”—blank” href=”https://collegebasketball.ap.org/article/texas-am-beats-alabama-68-66-behind-davis-20-points”>68-66 victory over the Crimson Tide</a> six days ago. Texas A&M led by as many as seven points early in the first half, but Alabama surged ahead in to take a 35-28 halftime lead — only to need Sexton’s last-second shot to hold on for the win.
“I feel really good (about Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament chances),” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. “Something we can learn from is that the game’s not over until the buzzer goes off.”
Alabama: The Crimson Tide entered the game 56th in the NCAA’s RPI ratings despite its late-season woes, thanks in large part to earlier victories this season over ranked opponents such as Auburn, Oklahoma, Florida and Tennessee. Alabama also has a win over a then-No. 5 Texas A&M on Dec. 30, and it will have another opportunity to impress the selection committee when it faces top-seeded Auburn on Friday. The Crimson Tide reached the tournament semifinals with a pair of victories last season.
Texas A&M: Even with the loss, the Aggies appear likely to reach the NCAA Tournament for a second time in three seasons after beginning the day 25th in RPI. Starks previously scored 23 points in a game at Auburn on Feb. 7. The freshman guard was 8 of 17 from the field on Thursday and appeared to have won the game with his late 3-pointer, only to watch as Sexton answered on the other end.
Texas A&M center Tyler Davis scored 20 points in the win over Alabama last week, but he struggled to repeat that performance on Wednesday. The 6-foot-10 junior, a first-team All-SEC selection by the league’s coaches, was just 1 of 5 from the field against the Crimson Tide and finished with seven points to go along with 10 rebounds.
Alabama faces Auburn in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Aggies wait to find out their postseason fate.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP—Top25
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt—Voigt—AP