ST. LOUIS — Collin Sexton put the ball behind his back as he leaped into the air. He kept going in the air as the ball made its way back to his stomach. Then as a hapless Auburn defender flailed at the ball, Sexton passed to a trailing Alabama teammate on his right.
Donta Hall threw down the dunk. The crowd roared. And Alabama had punctuated an astounding run that would put it in the SEC Tournament semifinals and almost certainly clinch an NCAA Tournament bid.
Alabama, the ninth seed in the tournament, knocked off archrival and top-seeded Auburn in the quarterfinals Friday, 81-63, led by Sexton’s electrifying 31-point performance. The Crimson Tide (19-14) will face the winner of the Kentucky-Georgia quarterfinal.
Alabama outscored Auburn 50-22 in the second half at the Scottrade Center.
Sexton, a freshman point guard from Mableton, Ga., has become the star of the tournament. He had 28 points in Alabama’s win over Texas A&M on Thursday, including the game-winning basket at the buzzer. No dramatics were necessary this time, even after Auburn controlled the first half.
Alabama wrested control of the game with a 28-3 run to start the second half, stunning Auburn (25-7).
At one point, Sexton was averaging a point per every minute he played. He had 29 points with more than 7 minutes left in the game.
It looked bleak for Alabama in the first half, when it trailed by as many as 9 points, and Auburn kept answering runs. Even worse, two different Alabama post players went down with injuries: first Daniel Giddens and then Alex Reese. Both were able to return to the bench, though not the game, before halftime.
Then in the second half Hall went down hard near midcourt and had to leave the game. By then, however, Alabama was up 17 and cruising to the upset, into the semifinals, and probably an NCAA tourney bid.