So the point guard gambled, going for a steal on Alabama’s side of the court, snatching the ball from Alabama’s Mikhail Torrance with five seconds left and feeding it to Lucas Hargrove, who got fouled on a layup attempt.
“Any other time coach would have gone crazy, but I’m glad he did it,” Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan said afterward.
“Coach still went crazy,” Hargrove quipped.
Hargrove made one of two free throws to break a 57-all tie with 3.1 seconds left. After an Alabama timeout, Sullivan knocked a fullcourt pass away from Justin Knox as time expired to help the Tigers hold on for a 58-57 victory at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
“We’ve just found a way to gut it out, make some stops, get some big plays and win the game,” said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo, who has beaten Alabama in six of the last seven meetings. “We’ve found ways to lose games in the last five, six minutes of a game. It was nice for the kids to find a way to win a game.”
The Tigers (11-11, 2-5 SEC), who have four conference losses to team’s currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, narrowly avoided a 1-6 start to league play for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
“I’ve tried to tell our kids that we’ve lost to good teams,” Lebo said. “We’ve played right there with top-20 teams for 35, 36 minutes. We just have to be tougher both physically and mentally, and they did that.”
Alabama (13-8, 3-4) watched its two-game winning streak end. Asked about his first experience in the Iron Bowl of basketball, first-year Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant’s response was brief: “Tough loss.”
Nothing about the game was picturesque. Auburn has been accustomed to high-scoring affairs this season, with scores routinely reaching the 80’s.
Neither team found a rhythm Saturday, however. The teams slogged through a first half that featured 51 combined points, 19 fouls, 14 turnovers and only two 3-pointers in 14 attempts.
Alabama managed to take a 27-24 advantage into the locker room, a lead that grew to seven midway through the second half before Auburn responded with a 10-0 run keyed by guard Tay Waller.
The 3-point specialist had his best all-around game of the season, finishing with 20 points, five rebounds and four steals. He capped the Tigers’ run with a steal and one-handed dunk that made it 43-30 Auburn with 9:35 to play.
“Everyone was waiting for the offense and defense to come together,” Waller said, “and I think it did today.”
Neither team led by more than four the rest of the way. Alabama took a 57-53 lead with 2:22 to play on a layup by Torrance, who scored a team-high 13 points. But the Crimson Tide didn’t score the rest of the game.
Hargrove, who finished with 14 points, answered with a three-point play. The teams swapped misses over the next few minutes, with Torrance, the SEC’s leading free throw shooter at 86 percent, missing the front end of a one-and-one in the final minute.
That set the stage for Reed, who scuffled to a 10-point, six-turnover effort. He was fouled with 12 seconds left and made the first of two free throws to tie the game at 57, setting up the final sequence.
Even in victory, the Tigers made Lebo nervous, missing two free throws and a layup in the final minute, then sweating out a fullcourt pass that Knox caught 15 feet from the Auburn hoop before Sullivan knocked it out of his hands.
“We can make it get like a dental chair over there for me,” Lebo said.