Talk about drama! And the kind of drama that Alabama basketball really doesn't need right now. Whew. The great escape last night at Coleman Coliseum saved the players and head coach Anthony Grant a lot of heartache.
Heading down the stretch, a stretch of games that can lead to a bid for the NCAA tournament, the Auburn Tigers waltzed into Coleman Coliseum and nearly put the lights out on the Alabama hopes of making the field of 68. A loss last night would have been devastating.
A two-point win is survivable at this point in the season. But if Alabama fans were watching closely, the desperation three-pointer thrown up at the end of the game careened off the backboard and hit the front of the rim, nearly going in from 75 feet.
So, as fate would have it, points in the paint were available to Alabama in the closing minutes. Since that is where they have feasted all season, the Crimson Tide gathered all they could for a final run at the Tigers. And it was just enough to salvage victory.
In addition, Alabama connected on 27-of-40 from the free-throw line, 13-of-14 in the first half. It was a component of the victory that was essential. On the flip side, Auburn committed 29 fouls and was only 10-of-19 from the line.
Shooting just over 12 percent in the first half and only 26.2 percent for the entire game, free throws and defense, along with turnovers and inopportune fouls (from an Auburn perspective) allowed Alabama to climb back into the game with under eight minutes left, tie the game at 3:24 on an offensive rebound by Andrew Steele and finally take the lead in the game for the first time at 2:55 remaining on a made free throw by JaMychal Green.
That's right! Alabama trailed in this game for better than 36 minutes! But the Tide kicked and scratched their way back into the game despite horrible shooting from the field. Alabama suffered through long scoring droughts. Down at the half, trailing Auburn by a score of 31-25, Alabama opened the second half with a four-minute scoreless period.
During the same time, Auburn did little to make things worse for the Crimson Tide, adding only four points to the lead. But as the second half progressed, the Tigers continued to inch further away from the Tide, stretching the lead to 41-29, holding onto that margin through the 9:56 mark of the second half.
At 7:41 left in the game, Adrian Forbes hit both free throws following a foul by Alabama point guard Trevor Releford to put the Tigers ahead 43-34. Two consecutive missteps by Alabama allowed for Auburn to hold the lead without a score change.
At 7:09, Josh Wallace fouled Alabama's Charvez Davis. Davis made both free throws. On the next Alabama possession, Josh Langford fouled JaMychal Green, sending him to the line. Green also answered by making both free throws, tightening the score to 43-38 with 6:13 to play.
A series of turnovers, by both Alabama and Auburn, allowed for almost two minutes to pass without a score.
At the 4:32 mark in the second half, Ernest Ross fouled Alabama's Tony Mitchell. Mitchell stepped to the line following a Grant-ed timeout and sunk both free throws, leaving the Tigers with a three-point lead.
Auburn had been held scoreless since the Adrian Forbes free throw that passed through the net at the 7:41 mark.
The next Auburn offensive possession resulted in a shot block by JaMychal Green and defensive rebound by Andrew Steele. Ernest Ross fouled Steele sending him to the line. Fouls back and forth with made free throws by Alabama and missed free throws by Auburn left the Tiger with a two-point lead and 3:54 remaining.
At 3:14, an errant pass by Josh Wallace resulted in a turnover, hauled in by JaMychal Green. He was immediately fouled by Kenny Gabriel. Green made one of two free throws, putting Alabama ahead in the game for the first time in the entire evening.
That lead lasted all of 23 seconds, when Auburn's Tony Neysmith nailed a jumper, grabbing the lead back for the visiting Tigers and Coach Barbee.
The remainder of the game can be reduced to the following phrases taken from the play-by-play:
"Auburn's Chris Denson, turnover. Steal by Steele, missed layup by Steele, Tony Mitchell made tip shot following the miss by Steele. Turnover by Auburn's Allen Payne, missed dunk by Chris Hines. Josh Wallace, defensive rebound, fouled by Releford."
"Made free throws by Wallace. Tie game 47-47 with 0:53 remaining. Foul by Auburn's Ty Armstrong. JaMychal Green 1-2 on free throws, Alabama leads by one. Auburn's Josh Langford missed three pointer, foul on Tony Neysmith, putting Trevor Releford on the line. Releford 1-2 at the line puts Alabama up by two."
And then, with :13 remaining, Auburn's Neysmith made a jumper from 15 feet, tying the game at 49 points.
Alabama called a timeout. Mitchell drove to the basket, the ball careened off the backboard, off the rim and into the hands of a leaping JaMychal Green. Green's putback jam was a thing of beauty, a sight to behold for the onlookers at Coleman Coliseum. It sealed victory in regulation for the Crimson Tide and very likely opened a bid to the NCAA postseason tournament.
Wins against Ole Miss, Florida and Georgia will add depth to the resume for this team of dreamers and high achievers! RTR. Shouts go out to the Alabama Crimson Tide for a great run. With three left in the regular season, they cannot afford a letdown.
Surviving a game like this is a lesson learned. This team realizes that you must find your A-game at some point in every contest, and play it out as long as you can. Alabama did that with less than seven minutes to go in this game. They cannot afford another game like this in the regular season or the postseason. They will not let it happen.