TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Where was Collin Sexton?
That's all anyone wanted to know as Alabama took the floor for pregame warm-ups Wednesday night. Against No. 17 Auburn, the fabulous freshman guard with lottery potential and an average of 19.3 points per game was nowhere to be seen.
Right before tipoff, we found out why: an abdominal injury had knocked him out of the game. The disappointment inside the halls of Coleman Coliseum was audible. Sexton would be in street clothes as Alabama's archrival looked to extend its remarkable 14-game winning streak.
But Avery Johnson and the Crimson Tide had another stud freshman up their sleeve in guard John Petty. The lanky, dreadlocked rookie from Huntsville showed a sharpshooter's touch, scoring all but three of his 27 points from beyond the arc during a 76-71 win over Auburn.
Draining 8-of-13 3-pointers, Petty showed that he's capable of being much more than a role player. If anything, the former top-25 prospect reminded everyone why he was named Alabama's Mr. Basketball as a junior and a senior in high school. He's not afraid to take (and make) a shot from anywhere on the floor.
Petty said he knew he had to "step up" with Sexton sidelined. Petty added that he felt great when he saw a few early shots fall.
"I was open, so I shot," he said simply. "And I made it."
Herbert Jones smiled and nodded along as Petty confidently recounted his sweet shooting.
A few minutes later, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl wasn't so cheerful.
"It was a missed opportunity because they were short-handed," Pearl said.
He said of Petty: "Great, great jump-shooter."
With Sexton's knack for getting to the basket and Petty's ability to light it up from long distance, the Crimson Tide might be on to something as they settle into the meat of their schedule. It's no coincidence that Alabama is 5-0 when Petty scores 15 or more points this season.
Johnson's squad has been largely inconsistent to this point, losing four of six games before reeling off two straight wins against South Carolina and LSU. But beating a ranked Auburn team at home could be the start of building a stronger NCAA tournament résumé.
ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Tide as a No. 11 seed entering Wednesday night.
Amid the hoopla of beating their rivals, Johnson warned: "We're not a perfect team. ... We remember where we were three games ago."
It was then that Alabama lost by 19 points at Georgia. It was a game in which Sexton scored 23 points but got next to no support. Petty had one of his worst shooting performances of the season, going 1-for-8 from the field for three points.
Getting Petty to play more aggressively is a top priority moving forward.
Johnson said he has been proud of the way Petty has improved his jump shot, but that's not all.
"Petty is not just a 3-point shooter, now," Johnson said. "He can get inside the defense. He's expanding his game."
That could be bad news for the rest of the conference.
Alabama (12-6, 4-2) hosts Mississippi State on Saturday and goes on the road to Ole Miss on Tuesday.
Then comes a potential showcase game against No. 4 Oklahoma and its sensational freshman guard, Trae Young, on Jan. 27 in Tuscaloosa.
The matchup of Young and Sexton will be appointment viewing. But as we learned against Auburn, don't count out Alabama's other freshman guard.
Lose sight of Petty and he'll make you pay.