Auburn’s problems on the road have been well-documented this season. Too many times, when the Tigers are playing away from Auburn Arena, Auburn has played teams down to the final three or four minutes before going cold on the offensive end.
And even though Alabama had overwhelmed Auburn in the first meeting between the two teams, an impressive defensive performance from the Tigers kept Auburn in the game this time around. Late in the game, Auburn was tied with Alabama, and the Tigers held the Crimson Tide to just 31.1 percent shooting and a season-low 14 field goals.
Auburn (14-15, 4-11 SEC) never found the offense to put the Crimson Tide away. Kenny Gabriel led the Tigers with just 10 points. He and Frankie Sullivan, the team’s two leading scorers, combined to make just 8-of-27 shots from the field, and Auburn was abysmal from the free-throw line. Auburn only made 5-of-12 free-throw attempts.
“We just couldn’t score,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “That’s kind of been the story all year.”
Alabama responded to Auburn’s defense by making free throws. The Crimson Tide made 24-of-32 free throws to help seal the win.
- For the first time since Auburn played Vanderbilt to open SEC play, Willy Kouassi was given major minutes, and he responded with arguably his best performance of the season. Kouassi had only averaged 2.5 minutes-per-game in Auburn’s 14 SEC games, but he turned 17 minutes of game time into four points, five rebounds and three blocks against Alabama. “He’s performed well in practice,” Barbee said. “He’s shown a lot of energy. A lot like Chris Denson last year, he’s finally showed a grasp of what we were doing.” Barbee went on to say that he thought Kouassi, a very raw talent, can go on to be one of the best big men in the SEC if he learns to improve.
- Speaking of Denson, Barbee lifted his suspension after one game — Varez Ward was still unavailable — and the Shaw product finished with nine points. “Kids have to learn a lesson,” Barbee said. “This is bigger than sports, it’s about life… He had to suffer consequences for some bad decisions, but he made his way back, and I thought he played some big moments.” For somebody whose game is to get to the basket, Denson has to get better at the free-throw line. He was only 1-of-6.
- Noel Johnson had only made 3-of-26 3-pointers this season — he missed his first 14 attempts of the year — but he came up with 3-of-6 shooting and nine points against Alabama. With Allen Payne and Josh Langford both injured, Johnson may have to play extended minutes (he played 27) again. “I was ready for the challenge,” Johnson said.
- Gabriel was extremely critical of his own performance after the game. “I just take the blame for it,” Gabriel said. “I had some bad plays down the stretch. Coach was trying to go to me in the post, and I passed it out. I should have been aggressive, tried to make some people help and then kicked it out, instead of trying to force stuff. I turned the ball over with four minutes to go. In the first half, I couldn’t make a shot. I guess I started losing my confidence, and as a basketball player, you can’t do that.”
- Frankie Sullivan addressed Auburn’s problems at the end of games late in the interview session. “In this game, we played great defense, we just folded at the end,” Sullivan said. “That’s what we’ve been doing all season.