There are so many narratives in this one that it’s hard to pick. And most will remember it as the night the lights went out in Tuscaloosa:
Much-maligned Grant Nelson had one of his worst halves of the season, followed by one of his best. Nelson finished with a -8, and will be remembered as a hero of the game.
The stars showed up: Mark Sears looked every bit the best player in the conference… so did Auburn’s Johni Broome. Neither team had an answer for the other.
The secondary scoring option for each team struggled — Aaron Estrada was scoreless, and AU’s dangerous Aden Holloway was held to just two points.
Rylan Griffen, benched after Saturday, rebounded from that brutal outing in Knoxville to dominate the arc in the first half.
An Alabama team that has struggled with rebounding, upped their play and outhustled the larger, more physical Tigers on the glass.
Pat Adams’s crew swallowed the whistle for an entire half, and then went crazy in the second, calling 27 fouls in 20 minutes of play, after only blowing the whistle 13 times in the first frame.
The score was ultimately close, though the game was a bizarre one, in that both teams dominated huge stretches of each half.
There are a lot of narratives to be spun here, and it ultimately proved to be yet another classic, in what is fast becoming one of college basketball’s best rivalries between two of its best coaches. It certainly is already the best in the SEC.
And despite it all, because of it all, at the end of the day, Alabama sits atop the SEC standings and the conference’s last unbeaten falls.
The Alabama Crimson hosted the 6th/8th ranked Auburn Tigers on Wednesday night, and the night got off to a bizarre start. After the pregame introductions, facilities staff had a hard time getting the lights reset. Somehow, the game began in near-dark, and the Tigers hit a three-pointer off the opening tip.
The referees realized the scant lighting that was available was red, and a long delay ensued. After 20 minutes or so the problem was corrected.
But Bama’s play did not.
Coach Nate Oats inserted Latrell Wrightsell, Jr in the starting lineup in place of Rylan Griffen, who had a poor game Saturday at Tennessee. Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Grant Nelson, and Nick Pringle joined Wrightsell to begin the game.
Auburn shot out to a 14-6 lead with 15:06 left in the half. Down that margin, Griffen entered the game and immediately made an impact, making four shots behind the arc over the next six minutes. Wrightsell mixed in a long-ranger to give the Tide their first lead at 17-16 with 12:55 left.
Jarin Stevenson added a three-point shot, Wrightsell another pair, and the Tide raced out to a 42-30 lead. A Sears layup closed out the half, and Bama had a seemingly comfortable 44-30 lead at the break.
In the first half Alabama shot 17-37 for 46%, a hot 8-17 for 47% from deep, and 2-2 from the free throw line — despite a very physical brand of play going on. The Tide had 22 rebounds, 11 assists, one block, five steals, and seven turnovers. Griffen said Oats wanted him to show something, and the sophomore did, scoring 14 points on 4-5 from three point range. Sears had 10 points and seven assists at the break, and Wrightsell added nine.
Auburn shot 13-32 for 41%, a measly 1-10 from deep, and made 3-4 free throws. The Tigers had 17 rebounds, five blocks, four steals, six steals, and nine turnovers. Johni Broome dominated down low, and had 16 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks to lead the visitors.
The Tide used the same starters for the second half, and unfortunately started out as bad as they did in the first half.
Auburn began the half on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 44-39. Nelson got Bama off the ropes with a sick reverse dunk and made free throw for a 47-39 lead with 15:33 left. Two more Grant free throws pushed the Tide out to a 10-point lead at 49-39 with 14:57 left.
The talented Tigers made another run and the Tide couldn't find any breathing room. When Aden Holloway banked in a 25 foot three pointer for Auburn the lead was down to three at 54-51. Things were tense the remainder of the game.
With nine minutes left Auburn finally retook the lead at 58-57- a 28-13 run in 11 minutes. Griffen’s only basket of the second half, a three, put the Tide up 65-60 with 6:24 left. The Dallas native had a chance to give Bama some breathing room, but missed the front end of a one and one.
A Tiger three closed the margin to two before Mohamed Wague made both ends of a one-one for 67-63 score. Sears worked his way into the lane and made a clutch shot to give the Tide the lead for good at 69-67. Nelson and Stevenson both made 1-2 at the free throw line, and Bama lead 71-70 with 1:39 left. Nelson then made two huge free throws for a three point lead. Another monster dunk by Nelson made things more comfortable at 75-70 with 48 seconds left. Auburn made two free throws on their next possession.
With the score 75-72 with 11.8 seconds left Nelson was called for a dubious foul on a Barn three-point attempt. Holloway made the first two but missed the third. Nelson again came up big with the season’s most critical rebound, and made two more free throws for ‘Bama.
With a three-point lead Oats elected to foul the Tigers before they could launch a potential tying three point shot. AU made 1-2 and Bama led 77-75 with 8.6 seconds left. Sears was fouled, made both, and the Tide had a two possession lead at 79-75. The Tigers couldn't score and the clock ran out on the visitors on the wrong end of the 79-75 score.
In the second half Bama went ice cold. shooting a woeful 9-31 for 29%, 3-13 for 23% from deep, but a sterling 14-17 for 82% from the free throw line.
Overall the Tide shot 26-68 for 38%, 11-30 for 37% from behind the arc, and 16-19 free throws for 84%. Bama finished with 46 rebounds, 13 assists, three blocks, six steals, and 14 turnovers.
Sears played 38 minutes and was player of the game with 22 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and three steals, with the only black mark being five turnovers. Griffen scored 17 points off the bench and added seven big rebounds. Wrightsell took advantage of his second start of the year with 14 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes.
Nelson was the hard hat winner, and the Tide would not have won without him. In 31 minutes the senior transfer scored 14 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, with a block and a steal. Nelson’s 8-9 free throw shooting, most late in the game, were the difference for the Tide. The other six players that saw action combined for 12 points. Bama’s second leading scored, Estrada, was held scoreless, and had by far his worst game of the year. Oats limited Estrada to only 17 minutes in the game.
Auburn shot 15-35 for 43% in the second half with 4-15 from deep and 11-14 at the line. Overall the Tigers shot 28-67 for 42%, 5-25 for 20% from three, and 14-18 for 78% at the line. AU finished with 41 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 blocks, 10 steals, and committed 11 turnovers.
Broome fouled out and only played 26 minutes but scored about a point a minute with 25 points, and for good measure added 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. Chad Baker-Mazara was the only other Tiger in double digits with 11 points.
What a huge win for Alabama. The atmosphere was off the charts. The delay at the beginning was a blessing in disguise, because there were about 2,000 people still trying to get into the arena right at tipoff. With a torrential downpour in the area, many people had a lot of trouble with traffic.
Sears again showed why he is an all-conference, possible All-American, player this year. Down the stretch, Sears and Nelson put the team on their backs and carried the Tide to victory.
It wasn't pretty, but it sure was gutty and gritty, and oh so satisfying. And it was exactly what Nate Oats has asked for: toughness against quality teams when the waters get choppy.
Anytime you beat Auburn in anything it is a great day. Although the Tigers are ranked 6th-or 8th- depending on service, they have still yet to win a quad one game. AU has built a resume beating teams they are supposed to beat and haven’t played anywhere near the quality schedule that the Tide has. In fact, the Tigers are the only NET Top 25 team without a Q1 victory.
But, make no mistake, that is a talented Tigers team, and a very good one — though perhaps not as good as their ranking, which is what Bruce Pearl has been saying of his squad for weeks.
Up next: a home game Saturday with the LSU Tigers. Tip off is at 7 p.m. CT and will is scheduled for ESPN2. Games at Georgia and home with Mississippi State follow.
If the Tide can get to 8-1 before going to Auburn and LSU, they would be well on their way to another very high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Most impressively flawed performance
This poll is closed
Grant Nelson going off in the second half and helping seal the win, despite a mostly-awful first 20 minutes?
Mark Sears doing a little bit of everything, despite having a lot of turnovers — and most of them coming in the second half?
Rylan Griffen rebounding from an awful UT game to shoot lights out from the perimeter in the first half, only to disappear down the stretch?