Auburn feasting on ranked Tide
Tigers defeat Alabama for second time this season
By Bradley Handwerger
TUSCALOOSA — About an hour and a half before Auburn and Alabama tipped off Saturday, the student section in Coleman Coliseum was filled with fans heckling the Tigers during pregame shoot-around.
By the end of the game, the only fans heckling were standing in section Z, in a dark corner of the arena about 50 yards from the court.
They were clothed in Auburn orange and blue, and were only a small percentage of the 15,316 who originally filled the coliseum.
The Tigers, almost an afterthought a week ago when they were in the midst of a four-game slide, beat No. 25 Alabama 86-77 and completed the season sweep of the Crimson Tide for the first time since 1999.
“This goes down as one of the big wins,” Auburn junior guard Frank Tolbert said. “It’s fun just to win, but it’s bigger when it’s your rivals and it’s the second time you’ve beat them. This is the second time in 23 years we’ve beat them in this building, so it’s pretty big.”
It also marks the first time Auburn has swept Alabama when the Crimson Tide was ranked both times.
Now the Tigers (16-13, 6-8 SEC) have won two straight games, and with two games left to play, sit in a tie for third in the SEC Western Division with Alabama (19-9, 6-8). They are only one game out of first place.
Without point guard Ronald Steele, who sat out most of the game because his left knee is still bothering him, not much went right for Alabama.
The offense, despite holding a size advantage on the inside with Richard Hendrix and Jermareo Davidson, was content to stay outside the lane and finished 5 of 18 from behind the 3-point arc.
“I thought three or four minutes into the game, it was obvious (Steele) couldn’t run very well and wasn’t effective,” Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said. “I asked him. He said he didn’t feel like he could help the team.”
Auburn took advantage, using Korvotney Barber’s quickness, Josh Dollard’s athletic ability and Tolbert’s never-say-die attitude to keep the Crimson Tide at bay on the inside.
The three combined for 39 points and 15 rebounds. Barber alone had a double-double, scoring 17 and picking up 10 boards, building on an 18-point, six-rebound night in Auburn’s 81-57 win over Alabama on Jan. 23.
Then again, the sudden reemergence of Quan Prowell also helped the Tigers, as the quiet forward came alive for 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting after a slump that lasted nearly three weeks.
“He makes us a better team,” Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo said. “He can shoot the ball from the perimeter. He can run. Nice to see him come out of his mini-slump.”
It didn’t help Alabama that Davidson earned his second foul fewer than five minutes into the game, earning him a comfortable seat on the bench for most of the first half.
“That made it a mountain to climb, but we could have defended better,” Gottfried said. “I don’t think it was our offense. We had absolutely way too many defensive breakdowns, especially around the basket.”
Auburn took a four-point halftime advantage and turned it into a lead of 18 with 7:44 to play in the game.
But Alabama stormed back, using an 11-0 run to cut the lead back to single digits. Mykal Riley started the run with a 3-pointer that got the crowd back into the game.
Then Hendrix, a former Athens High standout who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, went to work, scoring four straight points to close the gap to 68-57.
Mikhail Torrance made a layup to get it to nine points, then Alonzo Gee hit a layup to make it 68-61 with 4:39 left.
Auburn’s Tolbert ended the run with a layup, and from there, the Tigers used free throws to close out the game.
Despite getting the deficit to six points with 1:29 to play, the Crimson Tide was forced to foul and Auburn made its free throws, sinking nine in a row at one point down the stretch.
Davidson and Riley finished with 13 points each for Alabama. Gee had 12, and Torrance added 14.
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