You say you like three-pointers? Well let me tell you, this was the game for you.
Alabama shot an SEC record 59 three-point attempts en-route to mounting a nigh-miraculous comeback on the back of the unlikely freshman, Jaden Shackelford to take the game into overtime.
It started quite poorly for the Tide, as they didn’t manage a single point in the first five minutes of the game while Auburn rattled of 16 straight to the obnoxious delight of a home crowd still learning the difference in a blocked shot and a travel.
Whereas I, just a bystander, was ready to turn off the game at that point, Alabama’s severely undermanned and undersized squad had a little more mental fortitude. They scored 7 straight to keep Auburn from totally running away with the game, and then spent the rest of the first half making just enough threes to stay competitive.
Auburn’s uber-talented freshman Isaac Okoro spent much of the first half bullying Alabama defenders, and 6’11” senior center Austin Wiley was getting free offensive rebounds on nearly every possession. Because of that size advantage, Herb Jones checked into the game despite his hand still being in a giant cast in order to give the Tide at least some level of defense underneath the basket.
Beetle Bolden scored 11 points in the first half, and John Petty had a three-point shot followed by a dunk, which preceded back-to-back threes from Alex Reese and freshman Jaylen Forbes to get Alabama to only a 3-point deficit at halftime, 44-41.
Shackelford hit a three to open the second half and tied the game up for the first time, but the Tide’s defense just couldn’t keep Okoro and Wiley away from the basket as they continued to bleed layups and free throws. Alabama was totally unable to drive the ball near the basket with their size disadvantage, so their first 15 points of the second half all came from three-point shots.
After keeping the game neck and neck for the first chunk of the half, Alabama had about a 5 minute drought that had them stuck at 58 points, and Auburn extended their lead to about ten points until Forbes (!) made another three-pointer that kicked the team back into gear. Shackelford hit back-to-back threes again, and then, after a few free throw exchanges and a rather superhuman one-handed block from Herb Jones at the three point arc, Shackelford faked a three from the same right corner and tossed the ball back to Kira Lewis, who drained it for his first successful three pointer of the night and bring it back to a 1-point game.
With only 23 seconds left, Jones gave his 5th foul in order to stop the clock and force Auburn to shoot free throws up three points. They missed both, and Alabama quickly got the ball to John Petty at the three point arc with the entire game on the line.
Of course he made it.
Unfortunately, the three-point magic fell apart in overtime as the Tide missed the first four in a row and Auburn raced out to an 8 point advantage before Forbes (!!) yet again broke the drought with a four-point play after an Auburn defender slapped his hand as he shot the three.
Petty and Shackelford hit back-to-back threes to make it a two point game, but the clock won out, forcing the Tide to foul and Auburn didn’t miss their free throws this time. Kira Lewis drove directly into an Auburn defender and turned the ball over on Alabama’s last chance for scoring, and the game ended 95-91.
The player of the game was Jaden Shackelford, as the freshmen racked up 28 points on 7/17 three pointers, while also grabbing 8 rebounds and a couple of key assists. Kira Lewis wasn’t as effective a shooter as he usually is, but he got Alabama’s first triple-double since 1996. 10 points, 10 rebounds, and an astronomical 13 assists— all while only turning the ball over once.
Lewis still struggles at times with taking bad shots and risky dribbles, but the sophomore guard showed tremendous improvement in his ability to distribute the ball to open shooters tonight, which will be key for him to continue to develop as a point guard.
John Petty had 20 points, and Bolden and Forbes rounded out the group of double-digit scorers with 11 each.
Auburn out-rebounded the Tide 60-44, but it honestly felt a lot worse than that. And the Tide managed to limit their turnovers to less than 10— really impressive, considering just how many possessions they had.
Ultimately, free throws proved to be the difference. With Alabama totally unable to drive towards the basket (32% on non-threes, 37% on three-pointers), they were rarely fouled and only got to shoot 16 free throws all night. Auburn, meanwhile, spent most of the entire 2.5 hours standing at the free throw line, making 26 of their 39 attempts.
Alabama is a team that lost two forwards to season-ending injuries before the season started and is also currently without a healthy Herb Jones, the team’s best defender and rebounder. They only have 8 healthy scholarship players, five of which are guards. That they even managed to finish this game without oxygen masks is a testament to both their physical and mental endurance.
They overcame a horrible start and a raucous home crowd against the top team in the SEC and leaned into their massive size and depth disadvantage to very nearly notch the sweep against Auburn this year.
This team is by no means perfect as they’ve tried to adopt a totally new system under a new coach all while playing short-handed, but they fought tooth and nail to the very end in a game that I wrote off as hopeless before it even started and deserve all the credit in the world for that.