Today did not start promisingly. First, Donta Hall was still expected to miss the game due to the wrist injury he sustained a little while back. Then, we learned that superstar freshman Collin Sexton was going to miss the game due to an abdominal injury.
Throw in the fact that Auburn was riding high on a 14-game win streak and leading the SEC, and nothing felt promising at all.
Well, Auburn started the game a little tight and missed a bunch of shots while Alabama cashed in the opportunities to jump out to an early lead, despite the obvious offensive discombobulation without Collin Sexton to man the point guard.
Unfortunately, a string turnovers from every Tide player that ever set foot on the court and probably their mothers too led to a raging comeback from the Tigers who took the lead and kept on going full steam ahead. Donta Hall did come into the game despite not being expected to play, and immediately blocked a shot, as is his ritual. Meanwhile, John Petty and Alex Reese hit enough threes to keep Alabama in the game.
In fact, Reese hit a 3-pointer to tie the game up at 30 just before half, but the War Eagle-Tigers rushed down and got some Barn-luck blind shot from way past the arc at the buzzer to preserve a 33-30 going into halftime.
The second half was, in a way, a bit reminiscent of Alabama’s football team’s recent win: the freshmen took over. John Petty hit 3 after 3 after 3 after 3 from anywhere he pleased on the court, while Herb Jones took his game to another level than anything we’ve seen this year. Not only did he continue his hard, aggressive defense and charge-drawing that we’ve seen all year, but he took control of the offense by constantly driving into the lane and either making baskets or dishing dimes of passes back out to gash the Auburn defense.
To their credit, Auburn kept hitting just enough response shots to keep the game from getting out of hand, but Alabama still rode a 10-14 point lead for a significant chunk of the half. But as the half began to draw to a close, Auburn also began to draw close (don’t you just love the English language??). Alabama found themselves holding on to very tenuous lead with just a little more time left on the clock than would be comfortable.
As you’d expect, Auburn started fouling the moment the ball was inbounded to force Alabama to shoot free throws. The Tide made some, but not as many as you’d like to see in this situation to ice the game. Meanwhile, Alabama kept getting called for ticky-tack fouls too to give Auburn their own free throws without moving the clock. It got so bad that Herb Jones picked up his fifth foul in a play where he never even touched the ball handler... The referee blew his whistle in anticipation of a foul. Plus another moment of pure Barn luck had a desperation 3-pointer hit the front of the rim and bounce at least 5 yards straight up into the air, only to fall right down into the basket.
But, in the end, Dazon Ingram and John Petty made just enough free throws to keep the lead, and Auburn’s final attempt to tie the game was null and void due to the shooter stepping out of bounds first... and it wouldn’t have mattered since John Petty swatted it away anyway.
Petty was by far and away the game’s leading scorer. He hit 8/13 three-point shots and ended up with 27 points on the night. He was also pretty involved defensively all game, and just really picked up his play when the team needed him most.
Dazon Ingram took over the point guard spot for the second time this season with Sexton out, and for the second time, he really seemed to struggle with ball-control and moving the offense. He was second on the team with 16 points, but 10 of those all came from free throws. Outside of that, he was 3/11 shooting from the court and had 5 turnovers.
Like Petty, Herbert Jones also had the best game of his career in the most crucial game of his career. It doesn’t really show up on the stat sheet, but his unadulterated aggressiveness on both sides of the ball sparked the Alabama team when they most needed something to push their identity without Sexton. He ended up with 11 points, 4 steals, 4 assists, 7 rebounds, and a block .
Braxton Key was the other major contributor in minutes played. He looked more controlled and safe than he has in the past few weeks since returning from injury, but still contributed little in the scoring with only 4 points. He did lead the team with 9 rebounds and just behind Jones with 3 assists though.
As for the big men, Hall, Daniel Giddens, Galin Smith, and Alex Reese all got about 15 minutes of playing time each. Reese led in scoring with 7 points, 6 of which came from 3-pointers (Dem Bammers have a center that shoots three point shots... they cheatin PAAAAWWWLLL). But all in all, the Tide were unable to take advantage of the size mismatch they had over Auburn, the shortest team in the nation.
It was ugly at times, but don’t let that distract you from how huge this win was. Not only did Alabama knock off their rival and the top team in the SEC, but they did it without their best player, and their second best player (Donta Hall) very limited. Alabama withstood early frustrations to take a commanding lead, then fended off a last minute charge that was bolstered by a combination of Barn-voodoo and more-than-slightly-questionable refereeing to ice the win on free throws.
This can be a huge moment of growth and confidence for this team going forward... Especially if Herbert Jones continues to play at the level he discovered in himself today.
Plus, you know, we got to watch Auburn’s 14-game winning streak snapped by their rival in basketball just 9 days after they were forced to watch their two football rivals (who they futilely beat in the regular season) play for a national championship just after they were embarrassed on a national stage by UCF.
What a great time to be alive.
Roll Tide, and Buckle Up!