Observations: Auburn 81, Alabama 77
The Crimson Tide came all the way from 14 down, but Bruce Pearl's Tigers showed in the closing minutes why they're championship material.
PF Jabari Smith (Matthew Shannon/Auburn Athletics)
The most anticipated Auburn-Alabama basketball game in years lived up to the hype and then some.
Both fan bases were at full volume Tuesday night in Coleman Coliseum. Several of Auburn’s stars had huge performances in their first-ever matchups against the Crimson Tide. Alabama refused to fold and rallied with one of its usual, avalanche-like scoring runs to even the game up late.
But the final minutes belonged to Auburn. And, as Bruce Pearl said afterwards, those minutes now belong in Auburn basketball history.
“When you beat Alabama on the road, you make history,” Pearl said. “So, Jabari Smith, he made history. Allen Flanigan stepping up and making those four free throws late, making history. Dylan Cardwell, on the blocked shot late, making history. Wendell Green pulling up from anywhere, making history. You know, K.D. Johnson playing with those kinds of efforts and energy… making history.”
For the first time ever, Auburn has won a basketball game in which both it and Alabama were ranked. The Tigers remained in the driver’s seat in the early SEC championship race, and they did so by winning what was, on paper, their toughest matchup of the regular season.
Here are five Observations, the Rotation Chart, the Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night from Auburn’s historic 81-77 win at Alabama.
Defense wins rivalry games
Auburn led by 14 with 7:57 left after a cold-blooded 3-pointer from Smith. Then Alabama, as it is prone to do at home during the Nate Oats era, erupted for a 14-0 run in less than four minutes — featuring a dunk of the year candidate from freshman phenom J.D. Davison over Walker Kessler.
After a game-tying dunk by Darius Miles, Smith was called for a charging foul to send things to the under-four timeout. In the huddle, Auburn knew what it had to do to win.
“When we came out (of the timeout), we just had to pick up that level of energy up,” Smith said. “Start guarding again. … We just had to lock back in on what got us that 14-point lead.”
Miles’ dunk would be the last field goal Alabama would score the rest of the way.
Down the stretch, Alabama missed its final eight shots from the field. The Tide had two successful trips to the free-throw line, but those four points were it. Alabama missed six 3-pointers and two layups, including a late take from Jahvon Quinerly after he turned down a potential look at a go-ahead 3-pointer.
“We really won the game with our defense,” Pearl said. “We really won the game by getting stops.”
Alabama went on that monster run, yes, but Oats’ offense was not at its usual best at home. The Crimson Tide had an effective field goal percentage of 40.1% — 6.4% lower than any other game this season.