Fresh off a huge home win over #4 Baylor, Alabama rolled over to #1 Auburn in hopes of yet another win over a highly ranked foe. Alas, it was not to be, as the Tigers easily dispatched their in-state rivals by a score of 100-81.
The first half was a nightmare scenario for the Tide. Auburn played off of the energy of their raucous crowd against a Tide team that has struggled in hostile environments as evidenced by their 1-4 in true road games coming in. Auburn was flat out better on both ends of the court and put up a whopping 51 points before the break. Walker Kessler seemingly took away every drive Alabama had to the rim, changing the shots he didn’t erase, and Eastern Kentucky transfer point guard Wendell Green, Jr. looked like a young Chris Paul as a scorer and distributor. Jaden Shackelford got in early foul trouble but had a hot hand and kept Alabama within shouting distance by pouring in 16 of Alabama’s 37 points. The Tide trailed by 14 at the break.
Whatever Nate Oats said to the guys at halftime, it worked. The Tide put together a 12-2 run in the first five minutes of action to pull within four. Jahvon Quinerly led the way with nine points on some pretty teardrop finishes, and for a moment we had a ballgame. Unfortunately that was short lived. Auburn found its groove again and quickly pushed the lead back to double digits, and that was that.
Quite simply, Auburn has a better basketball team this season. They are solid top to bottom, but the duo of Kessler and Jabari Smith are the difference makers who put them in the national title conversation. Kessler is a phenomenal rim protector who is as fundamentally sound as it gets on offense, while Smith is a do everything superstar. Those two make already quality guards look better than they are, and Green in particular is a revelation.
The good news is that Alabama still sits pretty at 6-5 in Quadrant 1 games, keeping them in the top 25 of the NET rankings even with bad losses at Missouri and Georgia. It doesn’t get much easier against Kentucky this weekend, but after that is a stretch run featuring quite a few winnable, though not easy, games. Those will determine the team’s postseason fate.