Hoping to avenge their slain and incapacitated football team, Auburn's basketball squad fought valiantly but ultimately succumbed to a better Alabama team, 57-55. Auburn came out firing as they opened the game with consecutive threes from senior Antione Mason. Alabama's Riley Norris, who got the start today, returned with his own three pointer, and Auburn led 6-5 after only two minutes of game time. Both offenses then regressed to their normal state and combined to miss seven shots, pick up two fouls, and give up a turnover before Auburn finally scored again over four minutes later.
Auburn extended their lead to five points, but Levi Randolph and Shannon Hale hit back to back three pointers to give Alabama the lead again. About halfway through the first half, the game started to get chippy. Auburn played a very tight full court press, and succeeded in getting under the skin of the Alabama players, particularly Ricky Tarrant. In a four minute span, Tarrant picked up three fouls (one a technical), lost two turnovers, and just all around played out of control. Coach Anthony Grant sat Tarrant on the bench for the rest of the half.
With two minutes left in the game, Alabama had actually lost more turnovers (8) than they had scored field goals (7). Fortunately, the Tide defense and lack of Tiger offense prevailed, and the Crimson Tide went into halftime with a 25-23 lead. This game was actually on pace to score less total points than the Iron Bowl in November.
The second half opened the same way the first ended: missed shots on both ends. Tarrant made it back onto the court after his timeout in the corner, promptly picked up another dumb foul, and was benched again. Auburn owned the first ten minutes of the half, really getting under Alabama's skin and causing fouls, turnovers, and bad shots in every direction.
With 8:11 left in the game, Auburn took a 45-39 lead. Then Ricky Tarrant (who was allowed out of his timeout again), managed to elbow a guy in the face on an inbound play and was ejected from the game on his second technical foul. After the free throws, Alabama was down 8 points and Levi Randolph decided that losing was not on his checklist for the day. He anticipated an Auburn pass and strolled down the court to a leisurely dunk to get the Crimson Tide crowd back into the game. The teams traded a few more points the next few minutes, but Levi Randolph led the Tide with 13 points and two steals in the last 7 minutes of the game.
With the score tied 55-55 and 10 seconds left in the game, Randolph finally missed a shot. Fortunately, his partner in crime since freshman year, Rodney Cooper, caught the errant shot and put it back for 2 with four seconds left. Auburn missed the desperation shot and Coleman Coliseum exploded as Alabama lengthened its home win streak against Auburn to six.
Randolph was the only Tide player to make it into double digits with 18 points on a 50% shooting day. He added 7 rebounds and two key steals and was easily the Tide's only effective offensive weapon on the day. Jimmie Taylor, on the other hand, only had three points, but was a defensive force of nature with 6 blocks (and affected even more shots).
Shannon Hale hit two three pointers on his way to 9 points on the day, and showed flashes of the potential we all know is hiding in there somewhere. Tarrant also had nine points, but six of them came from free throws. Rodney Cooper only had 8 points, but all seemed to come at the most important times. The senior added five rebounds, a steal, and two blocks to go along with his impact performance on the day.
Though he didn't really show up in the stat sheet, Justin Coleman got extensive playing time at point guard with Tarrant being out, and performed admirably. He made a number of crisp, aware passes and played extremely tight defense on the Auburn point guard.
It was a good win for the Tide, especially the fans. The importance of avoiding a three game losing streak, especially against Auburn, should not be undervalued. It may not have been pretty, but the resiliency of the team with everything going in the second half really spoke to me. Also, Levi Randolph is still really good.