The Alabama Crimson Tide swept the season series with in-state rival Auburn on Tuesday, winning 78-68 at Auburn Arena. The win gives much-maligned coach Anthony Grant a 9-3 career record against the Tigers. 'Bama improved to 16-10 overall and 6-7 in the SEC. Auburn fell to 12-14, 4-9 in conference, and suffered their fourth home loss in a row.
Auburn took their largest lead of the game at 13-6 with 14:17 left in the first half before the Tide got on track. The game was back and forth for the remainder of the half, the Tigers taking a 36-33 lead into the locker room. Shannon Hale had eight points for 'Bama, and Antoine Mason had 14 for Auburn. KT Harrell, the conference's leading scorer, was saddled with foul trouble and only played nine first half minutes for the Tigers. Levi Randolph had a quite first half for the Tide again, scoring only four points. Randolph would make up for lost time in the second half.
At halftime the Tide was 11-24 from the field for 45%, 5-12 from three point range for 41%, and 6-10 from the free throw line. Auburn was 10-28 for 35 percent, 5-13 from three point range for 38 percent and 11-13 for 86 percent.
The first few minutes of the second half were a back and forth affair with several lead changes. When Harrell hit a jump shot with 15:39 left, Auburn had their last lead of the night at 46-45. Randolph, Retin Obasohan and Rodney Cooper carried the team offensively from that point forward, but also got help from Justin Coleman, Michael Kessens, Jimmie Taylor and Riley Norris. At about the 10 minute mark the Tide built a six point and never let the Tigers get closer than five before stretching it out at the end.
Randolph, who in three previous career games at Auburn was 0-14 from the field, was a very efficient 6 of 8 shooting including 2-3 from beyond the three point line. The senior captain finished with 19 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out three assists. Obasohan, who finally seems fully healthy, played one of his best games in Crimson, scoring 16 points with four rebounds in 23 minutes of action. Rodney Cooper scored 13 points and led the team with four assists. Hale scored only three points in the second half and spent much of the half on the bench, finishing with 11 points. Michael Kessens scored six and had seven big rebounds. Jimmie Taylor led in rebounds with eight while scoring four. did not shoot well (1-5) but made all six of his free throw attempts and scored nine points in 18 minutes.
Mason, the son of former Knicks great Anthony Mason, scored 24 for the Tigers, followed by Harrell with 21 and Cinmeon Bowers with 14. Only two other Tigers scored, T.J. Lang contributing five points and Jordon Granger four.
Alabama scorched the nets to the tune of 16-27 (59%) from the field, 4-9 from three point range, and 10-11 from the free throw line in the second half. For the game the Tide finished with 53% percent from the field, 43% from the three point line and 76% from the free throw line. Auburn was held to 39% from the field, 36% from three range and 84% from the free throw line.
If Grant was actually coaching for his job he put on a good audition. He actually drew a technical foul early in the game after Kessens was called for a highly questionable foul on a hard screen. The Tide coach showed more fire than has been seen out of him in quite a while, getting his money's worth in chewing on the official's ear. The team played more up-tempo, moving the ball around with crisp passes and running several back door cuts. Grant's teams always play hard, but seemed to play with an edge tonight that was missing Saturday night in the loss to Vanderbilt. 'Bama seemed to respond to Grant after some say he threw them under the bus, saying that "I hope they realize they threw away great opportunity tonight."
Bruce Pearl is now 0-2 against Anthony Grant and Alabama in his short Auburn career. Auburn may have a bad team, but they do have talent. Harrell leads the league in scoring, and was the leading returning SEC scorer coming into this season. Bowers is the top rebounder in the SEC and seventh nationally. Mason, a graduate transfer from Niagara, was the leading returning scorer in the NCAA, averaging 25.6 points per game last season. There are a lot of differences in Grant and Pearl, but Pearl constantly uses the "we just don't have any talent, and don't have enough players" excuse to explain his team's performance. To Grant's credit, he has never made excuses despite injuries and some of the odd roster attrition he has been tasked with overcoming. Pearl's track record gives the Auburn faithful confidence that the Tigers will improve in his time on the Plains, and only time will tell if this comes to fruition.
The Tide plays next on Saturday night when they host Georgia in a 7:00 p.m. game that will be televised on ESPN2.
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