Amidst the raucous fever of a Coleman Coliseum packed to the brim, the Alabama Crimson Tide fought tooth and nail to ward off the frenetic efforts of a hyped Auburn team, and made just enough late free throws to ice the win. In a day where Retin Obasohan struggled to give much of a spark to the Alabama offense, the rest of the team rallied to pick up the production that he usually gives. The game was muddled with fouls and bad calls on both teams, yet the players managed to keep the pace entertaining with a bevy of dunks, blocks, and opportune three point shots.
Both teams started the game clumsily, but the Tide recovered it's crimson sea legs before the Tigers and controlled the pace of the game for much of the first half. Despite an energetic Auburn defense, the Tide raced out to a 10 point lead of 24-14 on the back of freshman Donta Hall's trio of monster dunks. While Hall was having the breakout game of his freshman campaign, Auburn forward Horace Spencer took it upon himself to do the same. The typically low-scoring freshman added a couple of rim-shaking dunks and a block of his own. The Tide lost momentum, and limped into halftime with a 31-29 lead. The final points of the half came from an awkward, yet accurate, 3-point shot from 260-pound Auburn forward, Cinmeon Bowers.
Auburn kept the momentum rolling out of halftime, playing stellar defense to hold Alabama to only 3 points in the first five minutes, while hitting all 8 of their first 8 shots after the break. Within the course of this mid-game slump, Alabama saw a comfortable 10 point lead turn into a daunting 10 point deficit. With team leader Retin Obasohan unable to get any semblance of offense moving for the Tide (partially due to the fact that he was on the bench with foul trouble) and the Alabama missing 9 of 11 free throws at one point during this stretch, their chances of preventing the in-state sweep looked bleak.
Arthur Edwards finally sunk a arcing three point shot, and Donta Hall returned to playing like a man possessed underneath the basket, helping Alabama to claw their way back into the game. With six and a half minutes to go, Edwards read a lazy Auburn pass like a children's book and bolted down the court in what may have been the most laborious sprint ever witnessed. With a defender closing in on him, the shooting guard and three-point specialist opted against taking the layup and, in what may have been the most surprising moment of the season, slammed the ball home in an emphatic two handed dunk to tie the game at 48 (I also think he pulled a leg muscle in the process).
Donta Hall fouled out here, and senior Michael Kessens stepped in. Apparently, the freshman's play inspired Kessens, who, for probably the first time in a crimson jersey, played with his hair on fire. On top of some really impressive and energetic defense in all areas of the court, Kessens threw down back-to-back slam dunks, one of which was a twisting one-hander in the face of an Auburn defender.
Obasohan regained his form late in the game, and made enough plays to keep the lead for Alabama, and the Tide held on to win 65-57.
Though seemingly having an off day, Obasohan led the team with 16 points, and stuffed his stat sheet with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block (in only 29 minutes of play time). Retin has really grown into a special player, and will only get better as he learns to transfer his athletic potential into basketball skill.
Arthur Edwards had probably his best game for the Tide, adding 15 points of his own, coming from three 3-pointers and the aforementioned dunk. He also added two assists and two steals, while not recording a single personal foul. Riley Norris did not play quite so well, only scoring 4 points with 2 turnovers, but did tie for the team lead with 8 rebounds. Micheal Kessens added 7 points, a block, and a steal. Jimmie Taylor rounds out the starting 5, but only played for 11 minutes in the entire game, grabbing three rebounds and two points while turning the ball over twice.
From the bench, Hall had a breakout game. He scored 10 points and almost got the double-double with 8 rebounds. He was only credited with 2 blocks per ESPN stats, but I think he had his hands on quite a few more... and most of those blocks were of the pure denial variety. Shannon Hale scored 6 points, and Justin Coleman led the team in both assists (6) and pointless, excessive dribbling during his time at the point with Obasohan out with foul trouble.
The officiating was pretty attrocious throughout the entire game, to the point that even the announcers gave up trying to figure out what was called. Auburn's big men, Cinmeon Bowers and Horace Spencer took turns with Hall and Kessens to dominate in the paint, and the Tigers very nearly knocked the Tide completely out of NCAA tournament discussion. But Avery Johnson and crew were steadfast and never wavered, slowly retaking the lead and icing the game in the final minutes of the game. It was beautiful.