Observations: Alabama 79, Auburn 75
The Tigers fought back from a rough first half in Tuscaloosa, but they were unable to finish off what would've been a huge road win.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Auburn hadn’t gotten punched in the mouth like this in a while.
The Tigers had won 11 straight games, all by double-digits. They had sprinted into the top 10 and were the last team in the SEC with an unbeaten record. The loss at Appalachian State on Dec. 3 felt like a long time ago.
But Auburn entered the halftime locker room Wednesday night in Coleman Coliseum — historically a place where the Tigers have struggled — down by 14 points. Alabama finished the first half on a 17-4 run, taking what had been a back-and-forth battle into a sizable lead for the hot-shooting hosts.
How would Auburn react? Bruce Pearl had noted several times in recent weeks that the closeness and chemistry of his team were both fantastic, but they hadn’t faced any real adversity in a while.
“We just didn’t get switched out on them and put enough pressure on the perimeter in the first half,” Pearl said. “Really proud of my guys for bouncing back in the second half. The locker room was really positive at halftime. Guys were really encouraging each other.”
That positive thinking proved to be pretty powerful. Auburn opened the second half on a 9-0 run. The Tigers later went on a 19-8 sprint to take the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining, as Tre Donaldson ripped the ball away for a steal and a dunk.
Auburn had life, even if it couldn’t come close to what Alabama was doing from 3-point range.
The two sides traded punches down the stretch, with Alabama never pushing out to anything more than a five-point lead. In the final minute, K.D. Johnson knocked down a pair of free throws, the defense got a critical stop, and Chad Baker-Mazara was fouled on a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
The first two free throws were pure. The third one rattled out, as the bounces tend to go for the Tigers in this building.
Alabama won the free throw-shooting contest in the final seconds and walked out with a 4-point win over its biggest rival.
It says a lot that Auburn could struggle so much in the first half — nine turnovers, 1-10 on 3-pointers, eight triples from Alabama — and still have a good chance to walk out with a huge road win over a team that the computers believe is still top-10 caliber. (Vegas also believed in the Tide, making them 3.5-point favorites.)
This loss stings more for Auburn and its fans because it’s Alabama. But Pearl thinks his team can learn a lot from this early SEC season disappointment.
“Well, they’re gonna run people out of here a lot,” Pearl said of Alabama. “Like, period. They didn’t run us out. So I think our guys can go, ‘Alright, we can compete on the road in a tough environment against a really, really good team.’ This may not be the outcome we wanted, but this is an outcome that tells me something.
“You gotta be pretty good to come in here and not get run out in this environment.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 79-75 loss to Alabama, along with Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
The early turnovers made a huge difference
Auburn’s offense started off quite hot in this game, hitting seven of its first nine shots from the field and racing out to a 16-8 lead. Alabama’s defense, which hasn’t been strong on the interior this season, couldn’t handle a dominant Johni Broome.
But Alabama still made an impact on defense by applying a ton of on-ball pressure. The result was nine first-half turnovers from the Tigers, who gave away the ball on nearly 25% of their possessions.
While going 12-22 from 2-point range was great, Auburn had too many trips down the floor that ended without a shot. And, on the other end, a blisteringly fast Alabama offense capitalized by scoring 16 points off of those turnovers.
“I thought their ball pressure really bothered our guys,” Pearl said. “Point guard is the only position we’re young. They disrupted us. I’m sure we’ll see that.”
Then, in the second half, Auburn immediately got rolling on offense and made its comeback by taking care of the basketball. The first turnover didn’t come until the 15:18 mark, and the second one came at the 7:55 mark.
That was it. Auburn had just two turnovers after halftime, and it was able to score 45 points with a much more efficient offense. The Tigers notched 1.286 points per possession in the second half, which is a pretty strong output.
“We had 11 (turnovers) for the game,” Pearl said. “Did a better job with the offense in front of us taking care of the ball and getting organized in what we were trying to run.”
On the flip side, Alabama only shot 29% from the field in the second half and 23.1% from deep. This was Alabama’s third-worst game in terms of effective field goal percentage all season. Without the easier looks and spacing off of turnovers, the Crimson Tide’s offense dried up — and the Tigers were able to make their comeback.