Observations: Alabama 77, Auburn 69
Auburn led most of the way against its red-hot rival Saturday. But some familiar issues came back to haunt the Tigers at the worst time.
PG Wendell Green Jr. (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn led for nearly 25 of the 40 minutes it played Saturday against an Alabama team that plenty of people — including Bruce Pearl — say is the best in the entire country this season.
By comparison, Alabama only led for 10:11. The only problem for Auburn was that more than half of that came in the final 5:59 of regulation.
After a back-and-forth slugfest worthy of the College GameDay presence and the electric atmosphere it generated, Alabama was just better when it mattered the most. And now, for the third straight game, Auburn has missed out on a huge Quad 1 victory by a single-digit margin.
“We put ourselves in position, again, to win the game,” Pearl said after Auburn’s 77-69 loss to Alabama. “A couple things, just didn't make shots at times. That's a tough part of it. And I thought the last six minutes or so, our defense in the second half wasn't as good as it was in the first half.”
In both of its losses this week to Texas A&M and Alabama — the top two teams in the SEC — Auburn was outscored by a combined 18 points in the final 10 minutes of those games. In “the fourth quarter,” so to speak, the Tigers have had a tough combination of not getting enough stops and going cold with their offense late.
“It was just tough down the stretch,” said Jaylin Williams, who had 16 points and hit three 3-pointers in the loss. “We needed stops and needed to stick together. I mean, we stuck together, but we couldn't really get stops when we needed to get stops, couldn't get rebounds.”
Auburn did a lot of things right for the majority of its first meeting with an Alabama team that still hasn’t lost a single SEC game this season.
The Tigers held Tide star freshman Brandon Miller to an 0-7 day from deep and a 6-21 day for the team as a whole. Auburn usually played at its desired offensive pace, slowing things down against the fastest team in college basketball. The Tigers got to the free-throw line, won the turnover battle and got the edge on the glass.
But two big disparities — 44-20 in points in the paint and 25-14 in the final 10 minutes of the game — were more than enough for the Crimson Tide to pull away late and leave the Plains with a rivalry victory.
“Our team has played a lot of good basketball,” Pearl said. “We're playing well, just right now not well enough to beat them. They're the best team in the country.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 77-69 loss to Alabama, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day.
C Dylan Cardwell (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn picked its poison on defense
Alabama has scored 90 or more points nine times this season and reached triple-digits in four of those games. Nate Oats crafted a roster to fully take advantage of his preferred pace-and-space style, having the third-fastest possession time in Division I and the third-highest 3-point rate of any power conference team.
Oats leans into the modern “layups, 3s and nothing else” mantra more than anyone else. And in this game, Auburn decided to make sure that Alabama wouldn’t get out and run or get hot on the shots that are worth the most points.
“I know Coach Oats would rather play much faster than they did tonight,” Pearl said. “They typically get out and going. We did a good job of controlling the tempo that way. You sort of pick your poison a little bit.”
Alabama only hit six 3-pointers Saturday, which is extremely low for its offense this season.
“We kind of just were one-on-one, not helping too much and trapping ball screens, doing different things with our ball-screen defense,” Wendell Green Jr. said. “I guess it worked out, defending the 3-point line.”
But the Tide made a living around the rim, going a strong 12-16 on layups and 8-8 on free throws. In total, Alabama had 44 points in the paint and shot a ridiculous 82.1% on 2-point field goal attempts. That’s the highest 2-point field goal percentage Auburn has allowed to any opponent in at least two decades, as KenPom data only goes back to the 2001-02 season.
“We, obviously, chose to not come off shooters and make them beat us from two, and they did,” Pearl said. “They got downhill and attacked our closeouts, but if we had come off, they'd be banging threes — and the margin would be more than what it is.”
Auburn sold out to stop Alabama’s outside shooting, but it wasn’t able to rotate well enough behind the aggressive perimeter defense from the likes of Zep Jasper, K.D. Johnson and Green to slow down the closer-range looks.
While Alabama gets blocked on 12.2% of its field goal attempts this season, which ranks No. 351 nationally, Auburn only had two blocks Saturday — and one of them came on a 3-point attempt. On top of that, the Tigers had some later issues with fouling, as the Crimson Tide shot 17 free throws after halftime.
“To send them to the foul line 17 times in the second half, we fouled too much,” Pearl said. “We sent Texas A&M to the foul line 39 times. Got to defend without fouling.”
In the final 10 minutes of the second half, Alabama went 9-13 from the field, hitting four layups, two dunks, two 3-pointers and one floater in the lane.
Auburn didn’t fall behind by more than two possessions until the final minute, so it had its chances to hang in there on defense. But, like the Texas A&M game on Tuesday night, the Tigers weren’t able to do enough on defense late.
“We just had to get stops, and we didn't get stops,” Green said.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn’s offense couldn’t keep up on the inside
During the previous games that were either losses or closer-than-expected wins for Alabama, strong interior scorers were a common theme.
UConn’s Adama Sanogo (25 points) and Gonzaga’s Drew Timme (29 points) were strong in early-season wins. Oklahoma shot 54.3% as a team from 2-point range in its shock blowout last month, while Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith (15 points) and LSU’s Derek Fountain (26 points) were key in Alabama’s much-more-narrow SEC wins.