Nate Mason crossed over and watched Collin Sexton trip over his own teammate and fall to the floor. The Gophers senior captain knew he had him, so he stepped back and drilled a three-pointer with the crowd going crazy.
Mason stared down Sexton, walked up to him and exchanged trash talk.
The All-Big Ten point guard doesn’t back down to anyone — not even a potential one-and-done lottery pick freshman prospect. It went too far as Mason was ejected from the game for picking up his second technical foul after the jawing never stopped.
The Gophers confirmed Mason will not be suspended for Wednesday’s game against Miami (Fla.) for his ejection. He made a mistake that started a bizarre series of events, including an ensuing skirmish, more ejections and Alabama eventually playing 3-on-5.
But Gophers coach Richard Pitino backed Mason all the way after Saturday’s 89-84 win against the Crimson Tide.
“He was getting into it,” Pitino said. “He was playing good basketball. I called a timeout so we could move on. I’m not sure exactly what happen. But I do know there were a lot of talented players on the court. There were a lot of people talking about Collin Sexton and talking about (John) Petty. They should. They’re talented guys. Nate Mason is just as good as any point guard in the country. And he’s the guy who I want.”
Pitino was called for a technical after Mason was thrown out, but he said “I deserve that.”
“I just told my (team) to calm down,” he said. “But I’ve got to fight for my guys.”
Sexton finished with 23 of his 40 points after Mason left the game for good. But Mason had 20 points, including 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting, including 3-for-3 from three-point range in only six minutes in the second half. He was clearly outplaying Sexton to that point.
Gophers junior forward Jordan Murphy, who was dominating in the first half with 19 points and 12 rebounds, said Mason set the tone for the early 17-point second-half lead.
But then things just got too heated between his teammate and Sexton.
“I think it was just the tension that was around the second half,” Murphy said. “How both teams were very passionate throughout the course of the game. You saw Nate Mason and Collin get into it a little bit. And then all the ejections happened.”
How do you play 3-on-5?
Pitino was being criticized on social media for not being able to put his five players in position to take advantage of three Tide players. The Gophers were outscored 30-22 in the last 10 minutes, even with Bama shorthanded with no bench.
Besides telling his guys to attack the 1-2 zone, Pitino didn’t know what he could’ve done better.
“I’ve never ever in my life seen that, ever in my life,” he said “Not only the ejections, then a kid fouls out and then the other kid gets hurt. And then Collin Sexton absolutely loses his mind. I’ve never seen anything like that. It was easier when it was 5-on-4. They were giving the wide-open, mid-range jump shot, which is a hard shot to make. I did a very bad job the last 13 minutes. I have no answers on how I could’ve done a better job there. I wanted them to drive the ball. But we kept our composure. We had to get stops and rebounds and we did that. So I have no idea if I’ll watch those last 13 minutes, but the first 27 were really good.”
— Murphy and Amir Coffey were named to the Barclays Center Classic all-tournament team. Murphy was the MVP after averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds in two wins against Alabama and Massachusetts.