“It’s very tough to sit on the sideline and not be able to contribute,” Auburn guard Earnest Ross said of his vantage point for the final four minutes. “I wish we could have pulled it out.”
Allen Payne‘s desperation, fullcourt heave hit the backboard and rim for the Tigers (9-18, 2-11 SEC) but bounced out, although it was later confirmed that the shot would not have counted.
It only added more sting to a game that, had Auburn won, would have been the most gratifying moment of Tony Barbee‘s long first season on the Plains.
“This loss is on me because I did an awful job of teaching these guys how to win,” Barbee said. “Because that’s a game even in this environment that as bad as we played, we’ve got to figure out a way to win. And we lost it, so that’s on me.”
Alabama (19-8, 11-2 SEC) shook off a 26 percent shooting night — its worst of the season — to avoid a loss that would have devastated its already borderline NCAA tournament credentials.
“I’m still trying to find out how we did it,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said, looking at his team’s woeful offensive numbers. “”When you look at the numbers, it equates to a loss. …
“I told them that this was a near-death experience. You’ve got to understand how close you came to losing some opportunities that are in front of us.”
Auburn started hot, using a 17-2 run to lead by as many as 15 in the first half. The Tigers led for 19:15 in the first half in a building where that usually doesn’t happen. Crimson Tide opponents had led for only 48:01 of 580 minutes in the Coleman Coliseum this season.
Alabama, meanwhile, couldn’t have struggled more. The Tide went 5-for-22 from the floor (22 percent) but managed to put together a 9-0 run just before the break to go into halftime trailing 31-25.
The Tigers kept it going in the second half, however, taking a 41-29 lead with 11:52 on a 3-pointer in the corner by Ross, who was the team’s only double-figure scorer with 10.
But fouls and the usual offensive shortcomings proved to be Auburn’s Achilles’ heel. The Tigers would score only two points in the next nine minutes.
Meanwhile, the fouls piled up. Auburn had 29 in the game, watching center Rob Chubb foul out with 9:19 left, a questionable call that prompted Barbee to earn his third technical in as many games. Ross picked up his fifth foul minutes later followed by Gabriel and Adrian Forbes, three-fifths of the Tigers’ starting lineup and the majority of the team’s offense.
The Crimson Tide took a 49-47 lead with 28.4 seconds left after Green and Trevor Releford both split a pair of free throws. Auburn’s Tony Neysmith answered with a shot off the glass that tied things at 49 with 13 seconds to play.
That set up the final play, with Green, who finished with a game-high 17, darting to the hoop to clean up Mitchell’s miss with little resistance.
“Give them credit,” Barbee said. “They made the plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”
Auburn returns to action Saturday at home against Arkansas starting at 1:47 p.m. ET.