Let me just tell you that Auburn was one of only two undefeated teams left in all of college basketball.
Oh, you had already heard that? Yeah me too. Every single time I opened the internet the last week. And ESPN had that little fact obnoxiously printed above the score banner on the broadcast and left it there the entire game.
Well, not anymore. Alabama, with their new coach and all, just sold out their gigantic, airplane hangar of a basketball arena and crushed the #4 team in all of college basketball by 19 points.
The crowd was going absolutely crazy before the game even started, and the Tide hit 5 points in rapid succession to start the game, whipping the fans into a raucous furor. Then Alex Reese and Kira Lewis slammed home back-to-back dunks (Reese breaking the ankles of his defender way out at the 3 point line and charging in like the beautiful, graceful elephant that he is), and all of Coleman Coliseum was shaking like a 10th grade boy preparing to pick up his senior date to prom with his newly minted driver’s license in hand.
To their credit, though, Auburn’s defense played lights out after that. Despite their typically high octane offense struggling to get anything going, they guarded every Alabama player on an off the ball as tightly as that same prom couple every time the teachers looked in a different direction.
The Tide started to press in an attempt to keep their offensive tempo at breakneck speed, but it led to a litany of mistakes and awkward forced shots that kept Alabama from running away with the game early. Many of us hesitant to hope lest we have it ripped away again lamented that Alabama wasn’t taking full advantage of Auburn’s ephemeral lull in scoring, and that would become a major issue later.
The Tide had a 14 point lead with only a minute left in the half, but something glitched in John Petty as he froze in place and backed away to allow Isaac Okoro a free three pointer, then he and Kira Lewis screwed up a pass at mid-court to give the Tigers another freebie, and the half closed with a 36-27 score. Pretty low scoring for two offenses as lauded as these for their pace and explosive scoring.
So many times in the last forever, Alabama has had massive cold streaks in the early-middle parts of the second half— especially in big games where they played well in the first half. This team, though, showed tremendous mental toughness. They never slacked up and never seemed to get cold. Auburn did slowly close the gap through sheer force of will and talent, and got to within two points, but Alabama just kept chipping away with an overabundance of free throws (who would have thought I’d ever say that after the free throw disaster last year?) to keep the lead.
With 7 minutes left in the game and Alabama still holding a tenuous lead, Kira Lewis got the ball at the top of the key and drifted to his left, surveying the battlefield for his next target. Defying at least 7 out of 13 physics laws known to man, Lewis stopped dead in his tracks, and the hapless Auburn defender’s face met the floor in punishment for trying to defy those same laws of physics. Kira glanced down at his quarry, collected the man’s soul in his back pocket, and then darted through a stunned Tiger defense for a flying layup. He looked to injure his back a little when he hit the ground, but came back in shortly after.
That play was the final turning point, and Alabama went into attack mode while the Tigers got more and more frantic and their coach befuddled.
Alabama’s players mostly took turns knifing their way to the basket and picking up foul after foul the rest of the way. Lewis’ layup put Alabama up by 11, and the Tide outscoring the Tigers by a total of 26-16 after that point.
Alabama only hit 27% of their 3-point shots in the first half, and adjusted in the second half to focus on attacking the rim over and over and over. If you had told me before the game that the Tide would have beat Auburn by 19 points by making less than 30% of their 3-pointers, I would have quote-Tweeted you on Twitter and let the masses do their cruel work.
Alabama’s 43% shooting overall wasn’t great, but it was a whole lot better than Auburn’s 32%. Though the Tigers had a fairly significant advantage in rebounds and blocked shots (they had a major advantage in size in this game), that kind of shooting will get you beat. Couple that with the Tigers racking up 31 fouls and 21 turnovers (giving Alabama 24 points off turnovers, 13 of which were fast-break points), and it was just an all around horrendous performance for the #4 team in the nation.
Kira Lewis was a monster, leading the team with 25 points and hitting 8 of his 9 free throws. When he wasn’t weaving his way through traffic to the basket, Alex Reese was draining threes (3 of 6 from three point range) on his way to 13 points. Herb Jones also had a brilliant game, scoring 14 points, 12 rebounds, drawing 3 charges, and just causing general mayhem for Auburn’s offense.
Beetle Bolden also had 11 points, mostly on free throws from scrapping under the basket and drawing fouls. John Petty had quiet game with only 7 points, despite hitting the the first points in the game with a nasty three pointer in transition.
This was a huge, huge win for Alabama, and words just don’t do it justice. They showed tremendous mental fortitude to keep the lead even when the three point aspect of their offense wasn’t working, and never once slacked up to allow Auburn to get into a rhythm. Now, sure, it would be too much to expect the Tigers to hit 32% of their shots the next time we play them, but tonight’s victory was nothing short of dominant.