The Night a Bull Got Loose in Brooklyn

Collin Sexton Talks About the Performance That Put Him on the Map
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

The Night a Bull Got Loose in Brooklyn

Collin Sexton Talks About the Performance That Put Him on the Map

Most Draftees have a signature game that stands out on tape – a performance that separated them from the pack. Maybe it was a Conference tourney title game or an individual showdown against another top prospect.

And then there’s the case of Cavaliers rookie Collin Sexton – who posted a performance that, by the following morning, had the entire sports world asking: ‘Did you see what that kid from ‘Bama did?!’

That game – an early-November loss that actually knocked the Crimson Tide out of the Top 25 – put the Young Bull on the map. And this past June, the Wine & Gold found him.

It’s the stuff you dream about playing on your backyard hoop – a David vs. Goliath moment in which Sexton and two Alabama teammates went 3-on-5 against 14th-ranked Minnesota for the last 10 minutes of the ballgame – outscoring the Golden Gophers, 30-22, and nearly pulling out a jaw-dropping victory.

Sexton – double- and triple-teamed the rest of the way – led the Tide, scoring 31 of his Alabama freshman-record 40 points in the second half, going 12-for-22 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from long-range and 12-of-16 from the stripe.

Playing on a neutral floor at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, things began getting weird just over five minutes into the second half when Sexton and Minnesota’s senior guard, Nate Mason, began jawing with one another after Mason’s triple put the Gophers up two touchdowns.

Each player earned a technical foul and not long after, Mason continued to jaw with ‘Bama’s bench, drawing his second tech and an ejection. The bad blood continued a minute later, as a shoving match escalated into a full-blown rhubarb and, although no punches were thrown, almost the entire Tide bench entered the floor – each earning techs and leaving Bama with just five players.

With just under 12 minutes to play, Dazon Ingram picked up his fifth personal foul and was done for the night, leaving Bama with four players. And on their next possession, John Petty missed on a three-pointer and came down awkwardly on his ankle, sidelining him for the rest of the night.

Left with Sexton, Galin Smith – another freshman who didn’t attempt a shot in his previous game – and Riley Norris, a senior who’d played in only two of Bama’s first 11 games, Coach Avery Johnson’s strategy on both ends was simple: Defensively, play a 1-2 zone, pack the paint and dare Minnesota to shoot uncontested threes and long jumpers. Offensively, turn the Young Bull loose.

Sexton scored in every way imaginable, despite Minnesota Head Coach Richard Pitino running two defenders at him every time he touched the ball – slicing into the paint and creating for his (two) teammates or elevating over the top to connect from long-range.

Minnesota would go up 10 with 3:11 to play, but Sexton connected on a spectacular three-pointer off the dribble, keying a 7-0 run that got Bama – which had just earned a Top 25 ranking for the first time since 2011 – to within three, 83-80, with 1:39 to play. The Tide got a stop on the other end, but Sexton couldn’t connect on a jumper with 1:18 to play as Minnesota held on for the win.

The only part of the precocious point guard’s story that defied a Hollywood ending was the game’s final score. But by the time the smoke cleared and the basketball universe had learned about Sexton’s coming-out party, it really didn’t matter.

After dodging the (Bull)et, Pitino proclaimed, "Collin Sexton, he could beat a single team just one guy on himself. He's that good."

As the Cavaliers continue their Summer League schedule out in Las Vegas, sat down with the No. 8 pick of this past June’s Draft to talk about the game that made him famous.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 11: Collin Sexton #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against the Sacramento Kings during the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League on July 11, 2018 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

How did a normal college game turn into the night it eventually became?

Collin Sexton: Honestly, we went out, we had a gameplan and things just changed very fast just because of the situation when our players ran on court. But when you look at the replay, their guys came off the bench also. It really should have been 5-on-5 the whole game, but the situation was what it was – and we finished it out.

We had five players, but Ingram, he fouled out and we were down four. And on the next play, Petty came down and shot a three at the top of the key and twisted his ankle, and I think there were still ten minutes to go.

We were down big, but then we started fighting back.

At what point did things start getting weird?

Sexton: It started with me and Nate Mason, who's from Atlanta. I'd known him for a while, we'd played in the same AAU program. We both knew the importance of the game and were just trying to beat each other.

So, he was talking a little bit and then he got ejected. But there was no bad blood or anything, it was just competitive, just going out there and competing.

Was there ever a thought that Coach Johnson might just call it and forfeit?

Sexton: Not at all. Coach Avery, he's somebody that is going to compete no matter what the odds are – and that's really why I gravitated towards him.

Could you see that, even with five guys, Minnesota was struggling with the uneven matchup?

Sexton: I felt like they saw a whole bunch of different things. I talked to Minnesota coach (Richard Pitino) at the Adidas Stop and he was like: ‘We could have done some different things.’

But they didn't – so we capitalized on it. Coach Avery, he talked us through it, what was going to be open, what to look for.

What was your mindset on the defensive end?

Sexton: Defensively, we just packed it in and let them shoot. They made a few jump shots but we knew they weren't going to continue to keep hitting them.

The thing is, those are the hardest shots to make, the ones where you're WIDE open.

Was there something liberating about playing 3-of-5 – with not much to lose and the chance to just go off?

Sexton: Yeah, it was cool; it was kind of fun.

But at the same time, we wanted to win because that game was very important. We were both Top 25, and we were trying to stay in the Top 25. And after that, we actually didn't get back in.

" ... once we started coming back, their fans started cheering for us. And you could feel the momentum shifting toward our side."

Collin Sexton on the Atmosphere at the Barclays Center

What was the crowd like as the second half was unfolding?

Sexton: Well, (Barclays Center) had a whole bunch of Minnesota fans, just because of Isaiah Washington and certain players from New York.

So they had a big crowd there, but once we started coming back, their fans started cheering for us. And you could feel the momentum shifting toward our side.

What was the reaction like afterward?

Sexton: The first reaction was our teammates meeting us in the tunnel; they were all screaming and yelling, excited even though we lost.

They knew the importance of the game.

Was there something special about getting drafted in the same arena where you put yourself on the NBA’s map?

Sexton: Just getting drafted in that building, it was amazing.

I was blessed just to get drafted, just because there are so many different players that the Cavs could have chosen over me. It was great.

How did you choose Alabama?

Sexton: Honestly, I chose Alabama just because, from day one, Coach Avery, he gave it to me straight.

The first time I met him he said: ‘I like this, this and this -- but I feel like you can do better at THIS. And that really opened my eyes, because like all the other coaches that I'd talked to were just saying: ‘You're really good at this.’

But Coach Avery said it straight and that's what I liked. I'd rather someone be honest with me from the jump because you know down the road they're not they're not going to lie.

Do you ever hear from any of their NBA alum – Latrell Sprewell, Antonio McDyess, Mo Williams?

Sexton: I talk to Mo from time to time because me and his son are pretty cool. So I just talk to him and he gives me encouragement just to keep going.

With all that’s happened with the Cavs just since June and now through the first week of Summer League, how are you feeling about your place on this team?

Sexton: The biggest thing when you come into the league is you want to go to a team that's going to be the best fit for you. And I feel like this team is the best fit for me. They’ll allow me to be who I am.

Because coming into the league, sometimes guys have to sit and wait for their turn, but I'll be able to come in and learn and be out there with these guys. I can’t wait.

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Sexton Minnesota Feature - July 12, 2018

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