Alabama clawed all the way back after giving up the first 16 points of the game at Auburn Arena, but couldn’t get enough stops in overtime as the No. 11 Tigers pulled out a 95-91 win.
What did we learn today?: Bama has lost plenty of games, but it will bow to no one. The Crimson Tide already proved it was back as an equal partner in the rivalry with last month’s 83-64 win in Tuscaloosa. But what it did after going scoreless through the first media timeout in the SEC’s most intimidating arena, with the atmosphere at the absolute peak of bedlam, ought to earn the respect of every basketball fan in this state. Alabama shot its way over and around Auburn’s superior size. It limited the Tigers to under 42 percent shooting from the floor. It did an outstanding job of securing the ball, turning it over just eight times despite a blistering pace. And it took every haymaker AU could deliver and never flinched. Herbert Jones made a surprise appearance after missing the last three games with a broken wrist, contributing three points, a block and a steal in seven minutes while playing with a bulky pad surrounding his left hand. But on this night the Tide didn’t just have one hard hat player. It had them up and down the roster, raising hopes for a season that may end short of the NCAA tournament but is unmistakably laying the foundation for better times not far away.
What were the biggest concerns?: The opening four-plus minutes were like an x-ray laying bare every weakness the Tide has. There was the propensity to foul, with John Petty and Beetle Bolden getting two each. There were the defensive lapses to allow Auburn five field goals. There was the glaring rebounding discrepancy, with Auburn opening an 11-1 edge on the boards on its way to a 60-44 advantage for the game. Alabama broke down in every way imaginable, which made the subsequent rally all the more improbable.
Bama won the earlier meeting because it was able to get to the rim and hold its own in the paint. But Wednesday it only went 8-for-24 on 2-point attempts while Auburn center Austin Wiley ran wild, finishing with 18 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks. Kira Lewis and Beetle Bolden in particular suffered whenever they looked to score at close range, combining to shoot 3-for-13 from inside the arc. That mismatch inside also let Auburn shoot 23 more free throws than Bama.
What was the best part of the game?: There was only one way the Crimson Tide could have stayed in this game, and that was a record-setting effort from 3-point range. Alabama made 22 deep balls on 59 attempts, both SEC records. Jaden Shackelford (28 points) hit seven 3-pointers and Petty (20 points) had six, including one to send the game to overtime. Bolden and Jaylen Forbes added three triples apiece to keep the sellout crowd on edge to the very end. Bama’s previous season high was 17 3-pointers at Samford.
Who was the star?: Lewis missed 10 shots a game after scoring a career-best 37 at Georgia, but the third triple-double in school history isn’t a bad consolation prize. The sophomore from Meridianville had 10 points, 10 rebounds, a career-high 13 assists and never turned it over until his final possession of the night despite playing all 45 minutes.
What’s next?: Bama’s last best chance of sparking an improbable March Madness run arrives Saturday with a visit from No. 25 LSU. Tipoff on ESPN2 is at 3 p.m. Central.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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