The 4th ranked Auburn Tigers came to Tuscaloosa to play the 24th ranked Crimson Tide on Tuesday night. The Tigers built a big lead, withstood a furious Tide comeback, and scored the last four points of the game at the free throw line to win 81-77. The win was Auburn’s 12th in a row, improving their record to 15-1, 4-0 in the SEC while the Tide’s second straight loss dropped their record to 11-5, 2-2.
Coach Nate Oats stuck with the starting lineup of Juwan Gary, Charles Bediako, Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, and Keon Ellis. Gary was tasked with trying to guard Auburn superstar freshman Jabari Smith and picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game. Darius Miles replaced him, and actually played extremely well in getting 29 minutes of action in the game. Miles hit a three pointer with 14 minutes left in the half to give Bama a 13-12 lead. Gary returned and within another minute drew his third foul with 9:10 left.
The Tigers went on 12-2 run to take a 32-25 lead with just under four minutes, and went to the locker room with a 40-35 margin over the Tide. Bama shot 11-31 for 35% in the half and continued the season long trend of not shooting the three well, making only 3-14 in the half. Unusually good free throw shooting kept the Tide close at the break. Auburn shot 16-37 for 43% in the half including 2-14 from three and made 6-9 free throws. The Tigers scored 24 points in the paint and had 15 fast break points to help build their lead. AU used their size and length advantage to block eight shots in the period and take a 25-19 lead in rebounds.
Ellis hit a three pointer coming out of the break to cut the lead to two, but Auburn seized control and built a 10 point margin with 14:42 left in the game. The Tigers then tried to run the Tide out of their own gym, building a 73-59 lead with 7:37 left. To Bama’s credit they didn't fold and battled their way back. Shackelford and Quinerly hit back to back three point shots to cut the lead to 73-66 with 6:18 left. Then freshman JD Davison brought the house down with a slashing tomahawk dunk over 7’1” center Walker Kessler, and was fouled on the play. Davison missed the free throw, but drew a charge from Kessler on the other end to foul the big UNC transfer out of the game. Shackelford hit his other made three of the game to draw to 73-71 on the ensuing possession. After a defensive stop Miles made a dunk to tie the game at 73 with 3:44 left. Auburn scored to go up by two, but Shackelford made two free throws of his own to tie things again at 75. Auburn made two freebies of their own and in turn Noah Gurley tied things again with two free throws with 1:41 left. Coleman was electric by this point.
Ellis committed a foul and Auburn made both free throws for a 79-77 game. The Tide had an opportunity to take the lead with an open three from the corner with 35 seconds left. For some reason Quinerly passed up the shot, drove the lane, and threw up a wild attempt that never had a chance. After the game Oats said “I have no idea why JQ passed up that shot.” More fouls, two more AU free throws, led to an 81-77 lead. Quinerly tried a three point shot from the top of the key and had it blocked, one of six shots of his swatted away on the night. The Tigers missed two free throws but the Tide had no chance to close the gap as the clock ran out.
Somehow the Tide shot even worse in the second half at 11-31 including 4-17 from deep, but did make 14-17 free throws. For the game the team shot a ghastly 35% at 23-66, a horrible 7-31 from three for 22%, but a sparkling 24-29 for 83% from the free throw line. Bama finished with 42 rebounds 12 assists, six steals, seven blocks, and 12 turnovers. Auburn improved to 46% in the half on 14-30 including 5-12 from three and made 8-13 free throws. Overall the Tigers finish 30-67 for 45%, 7-26 for 27% from three and 14-22 for 63% at the line. AU had 44 rebounds, 11 assists, nine steals, 11 blocks, and 13 turnovers.
Individually the Tide was led by Quinerly with 14 points on 4-19 shooting including 2-10 from three point range. The junior from New Jersey added five assists and six rebounds but had a plus/minus of -16 on the night. Shackelford scored 13 on 4-14 shooting, 2-8 from deep, and had three shots blocked. Gurley played well off the bench with 11 points and three blocked shots and a +5 plus/minus. Ellis had 10 points and seven rebounds but was only 1-5 from the field. Miles had 10 points and led the team with nine rebounds. Davison played 26 good minutes and finished with nine points, four assists, had only one turnover, while playing very good defense and leading the team with a plus/minus of +11. Gary only managed six minutes of action. Smith, who very likely could be the first big in the draft this summer had 25 points and seven rebounds for the Tigers. Auburn guards Wendell Green and KD Johnson had 19 and 13 points, respectively. Tide guards had trouble staying in front of the duo, who got to the rim at will to score the ball.
The Tide is reeling right now. A second consecutive loss with a road game at Mississippi State coming up on Saturday. The team is not playing winning defense nor shooting the ball at a winning level. The heralded guard trio of Shackelford, Quinerly , and Ellis shot a combined 9-39 tonight from the field including 4-19 from three point land. Bediako isn't strong enough to handle the bulk of inside players in the league. Gary needs to stay on the floor but is undersized for the role he is called on for. Gurley is starting to round into shape and has played much better the last few games. Davison seems to be figuring things out and is playing much more under control, although he still isn't much of a threat as a jump shooter. Ellis has to take more than the five shots he took tonight. James Rojas is still recovering from knee surgery but was dressed for tonight’s game and may be close to returning. The Tide needs his toughness in the paint, even if he isn't the most skilled or graceful player on the court. On the season the Tide is shooting 45% from the field, 32% from three and 70% from the free throw line. They are averaging 82.1 points per game and giving up 74.4 per matchup.
Next up is the road trip to Starkville to play the Bulldogs on Saturday at 5 p.m.CT. The game will shown on the SEC Network. The Tide badly needs a bounce back win.