Auburn visited Coleman Coliseum tonight for a much anticipated affair between two of the SEC’s best. It was an all-out war, but in the end Alabama came out on the good end by a 79-75 score.
The game got off to an odd and inauspicious start. The house lights never came on after the pregame light show. Auburn got the first possession and knocked down a three pointer in relative darkness, then there was a substantial delay in the action as they figured out how to properly illuminate the arena. Once the lights were back, Alabama struggled for quite a while as Auburn built a ten point lead early.
At about the midway point of the first half, however, the Tide turned. Rylan Griffen caught fire from three, hitting four in a row, and that seemed to energize the Tide on the defensive end. While the Tide had absolutely no answer for big Johni Broome, they took a 44-30 lead into the break.
Predictably, Auburn came out fighting to open the second half. A 7-0 run cut the Alabama lead to three only 6 minutes in. Alabama managed to push it out a bit a couple of times, but Auburn kept coming and took the lead with nine minutes left. From there, a back and forth affair ensued. Both sides were giving it everything they had, and neither side was able to gain any separation. Auburn kept pounding it inside to the bigs, and Alabama’s guards kept taking the ball to the basket.
Mark Sears was huge in the second half. He has made such a dramatic improvement from last year and is the unquestioned leader of the team. The man just wants the ball when it matters, and he generally makes the play. Perhaps the biggest play in the game happened just inside a minute, when Sears managed to get to the rim. He missed a tough layup, but the defense had to collapse and there was nobody left to block out Grant Nelson, who slammed it home uncontested to put the Tide up by 5.
Alabama held a three point lead with under 20 seconds left, when Auburn wing Chad Baker-Mazara leaned into a wild three point attempt with Nelson contesting. Somehow the official saw contact that never happened and awarded three shots. After knocking down the first two, Baker-Mazara missed the third. Nelson grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 12 seconds left.
Nelson made both, staking the Tide to a three point lead. Unlike many coaches, Nate Oats made the analytically correct call to foul Auburn before they had the chance to shoot one from behind the arc. Big man Jaylin Williams, an 81% foul shooter on the season, missed one of two. Mark Sears was then fouled and made both of his, and the game was over.
Give the students credit, they showed out in this one and the team seemed to feed off of their energy. Alabama finally has an elusive signature win this season, and is now tied again atop the SEC standings.