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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — It was a neutral-site game, except for Alabama sophomore guard John Petty.
A two-time Alabama Mr. Basketball as a Huntsville prep star, Petty returned to his home town and scored 18 points, including a pivotal 3-pointer in a Crimson Tide rally, to help Alabama to an 80-79 victory over Mercer on Tuesday night in the Rocket City Classic.
Freshman sensation Collin Sexton led Alabama (8-3) with 21 points, Dazon Ingram added 11 and Alex Reese 10.
Demetre Rivers led Mercer (6-6) with 24 points and Ria'n Holland contributed 21. Holland just missed a 25-footer at the buzzer that could have won it for Mercer after the Tide nearly blew a six-point lead in the final 11 seconds.
"We looked like a team that just came off a break," said Alabama coach Avery Johnson, whose team last played on Dec. 9 at Arizona.
Alabama missed its first 12 3-point tries and trailed 35-31 at the half. That's when Johnson told his team, "Calm down everyone. The open shots are going to fall. Keep shooting," according to Petty.
Trailing by seven at the 10-minute mark of the second half, Alabama went on a 15-2 run over the next four minutes, highlighted by a Petty 3-pointer with 7:30 to play that gave the Tide the lead for good.
Alabama: After going 10-for-24 shooting on 3-pointers in a six-point loss at Arizona, the Tide missed its first 12 3s over the first 18 minutes of the first half. Alabama finished 6 of 28 from beyond the arc.
Mercer: The Bears didn't figure on a potential buzzer-beater after Alabama enjoyed a six-point lead with 11 seconds to go. But some sloppy Tide play gave Mercer an inbounds play with one second remaining and Holland's 25-foot desperation 3-point shot hit the front rim and caromed away.
HE SAID IT
"When we're working on that in practice, we have to know that is not Pokemon time. Or am I showing my age?" - Alabama coach Avery Johnson, on his team's near-disastrous lackadaisical play in the final seconds.
Sexton, Alabama's freshman guard and the leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference, started slowly and was encumbered with two early fouls. He scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half, shooting 4 of 6 from the floor.
Alabama's neutral-site game with Mercer was sandwiched between a visit to No. 18 Arizona (a six-point loss on Dec. 9) and a meeting Friday night in Birmingham with Texas (8-3). The Tide, with a schedule ranked 12th toughest in the nation, opens SEC play against No. 8 Texas A&M on Dec. 30.
Mercer, the preseason favorite in the Southern Conference, hosts Kennesaw State on Dec. 28.
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