Thanksgiving weekend of 2017 was an unforgettable one for the Alabama Crimson Tide men’s basketball program, as well as NCAA men’s basketball. On November 25, Alabama, ranked 25th in the country at the time, played the 14th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Barclays Classic Championship Game in New York City. The Golden Gophers would win, 89-84, but only after Alabama played the final quarter of the game with only three players.
The game was close throughout, but with 13:43 left in the second half, Minnesota’s Nate Mason and Alabama’s Collin Sexton began trash talking, leading to offsetting technical fouls. Seconds later, Mason continued trash talking, leading to his second technical and ejection. Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino also received a technical foul, leading to four Alabama free throws.
After the free-throw attempts, Minnesota’s Dupree McBrayer and Alabama’s Dazon Ingram tangled up on the following play, leading to a shoving match and referees needing to separate the two. In the chaos of the moment, all seven players on the Crimson Tide bench stepped onto the court to get involved in the situation.
According to section 14.2d the official NCAA men’s basketball rule book: “The following shall result in automatic ejection: Leaving the bench area during a fight situation as bench personnel but not participating in the fight.” With that rule in mind, after much deliberation, the officials decided to eject the entire Alabama bench for going onto the floor. This left the Crimson Tide with just five players.
With 11:37 left in the game, Ingram committed his fifth foul, fouling out and leaving Alabama with just four players. Less than a minute later, freshman John Petty went down with an ankle injury and would not return for the remainder of the game. With 10:41 left in the game, Alabama was down to just Sexton, Galin Smith, and Riley Norris and down, 67-56.
Alabama fought valiantly, even cutting Minnesota’s lead to just 3 with 1:32 left to play. Minnesota would hang on to win, but not without the remaining Tide players putting up big numbers. Sexton put up 40 points, the first 40-point game for an Alabama player in nearly 40 years. Smith finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Norris had 13 points.
“I haven’t (encountered a game such as this one),” said Alabama head coach Avery Johnson after the game. “That’s a new one right there. It’s amazing when you come into a game and you don’t expect anything like that to happen. But we didn’t make any excuses. We were still in the huddle drawing up plays, trying to solve problems and our guys executed with some of the screening action that we ran to try to get some of our guys free. We tried to punch it inside around the free throw line and use Collin’s (Sexton) speed and Riley’s (Norris) shooting ability. There was no surrendering our team.”
“It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve been a part of in college basketball,” Minnesota player Jordan Murphy said.
Minnesota would improve to 7-0 after the game, while Alabama dropped to 5-1, making it their first loss of that season.
The Crimson Tide would go on to making the 2018 NCAA Tournament as a nine seed. They would their first-round game against Virginia Tech before losing in the second round to the eventual champions, Villanova.
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