Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — When Alabama needed him most, Collin Sexton came to the rescue in the Crimson Tide's 68-64 victory over Rhode Island on Wednesday night.
Alabama's star point guard left the game around the seven-minute mark of the first half after being poked in the eye while bringing the ball up the court. Sexton went to the locker room with a towel over his eye, and did not return until there was about six minutes left in the game.
When Sexton finally returned, he drained an important 3-point basket and made two clutch free throws that extended Alabama's lead to three with under a minute remaining. Coupled with more free throws by Dazon Ingram, it was just enough to hold off the Rams.
Donta Hall had 13 points and 14 rebounds to lead Alabama (7-2). John Petty and Daniel Giddens added 12 points apiece for the Crimson Tide, who used its post players to compensate for the loss of Sexton for the majority of the game. Sexton finished with 11 points and Ingram had 10 points and 14 rebounds.
"If one player goes down, everyone has to step up," Petty said. "We just kept the intensity when he (Sexton) went out, and kept pushing it until he came back."
Jarvis Garrett scored 18 points to lead Rhode Island (5-3).
The Crimson Tide found its scoring by dumping the ball into the paint, and big men Hall and Giddens rewarded them with efficiency around the rim. Hall made 3 of 6 shots from the floor and Giddens was 5-of-9 shooting. Hall entered the game leading the nation with a 78 percent field-goal percentage.
"Staying out of foul trouble, honestly, has been the biggest thing for me at the beginning of the season," Giddens said. "I knew what I was capable of doing in the post, not only this game, but throughout the season."
Alabama won the battle on the glass 50-31, and finished with a 17-rebound advantage on the defensive end.
"We did, probably, as good of a job as we have done all year with everybody going to the defensive glass tonight," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.
The Crimson Tide held URI to 25 points in the first half, and the Rams converted on just 26 percent of their shots in the first 20 minutes. That number got much better in the second half, as URI shot 47 percent to close the game.
"You saw a team that scrambled and covered for each other," Johnson said. "Obviously, they took charges and rebounded. They didn't get into our paint as easily as some of the other teams that have gotten in the paint on us."
URI was able to stay in the game despite poor shooting by forcing Alabama into 24 giveaways, which the Rams used to score 26 points.
"They are a little loose with the ball," Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said. "They are young players, and we knew they would turn it over a lot. We just didn't think that we would botch as many open-court opportunities as we did."
Alabama: Won the final non-conference game played at Coleman Coliseum this season. The Crimson Tide finished its non-conference schedule with a 5-1 record in Tuscaloosa.
Rhode Island: Struggled shooting the ball on offense, but also had trouble stopping Alabama from scoring inside. The Rams have lost both of their true road games this season.
John Petty finished with 12 points, and took on some of the ball-handling duties while Sexton was out of the game. His four assists against the Rams matches his career high.
"I was just trying to put myself in the best position, and be aggressive," Petty said. "I saw that I had a mismatch. With me, I always know I'm going to make the right play. I saw the mismatch, so I just went to the goal aggressively and got fouls, and put my team in the best position to win."
Johnson said that Sexton could not see out of his eye when he was first taken to the locker room, and he noticed blood on the top part of his eye. Sexton returned late in the game when he regained some of his vision and was cleared by a trainer. Johnson said he will be examined again before making the trip to Arizona.
Alabama travels to Tuscon, Arizona to take on the Wildcats on Saturday.
Rhode Island begins a five-game home stand on Dec. 16 against the College of Charleston.