AUBURN, Ala. – A certain former Auburn head man was judged as two different men: With Cam Newton and Without Cam Newton.
Let the record show Auburn basketball is 9-13 this morning. But that’s 8-13 without Cam Newton.
Let’s recap: Auburn had lost six straight games this year. Auburn had lost five straight games to Alabama. Auburn started Wednesday by missing its first nine shots and trailing by nine to the team its fans despise the most, on national signing day and all other days.
It’s not quite clear when or where the tide turned on the Tide. But maybe a certain former Heisman winner, national championship quarterback and current NFL star who’s back on campus taking classes strolling in fashionably late had something to do with it.
Senior Josh Wallace and junior Allen Payne led the recharged Tigers to a stunning 49-37 victory over streaking Alabama Wednesday night, delighting most (if not all) of the 7,502 fans in attendance at Auburn Arena.
7,500 had to take note when the other two – Newton and Gus Malzahn – watched their Wonder Twin Powers activate without warning in the second half, when Wallace and Payne combined for 20 points while Alabama’s whole team combined for 14.
“It was a culmination of defensive stops,” said Auburn coach Tony Barbee, who admitted he wasn’t aware of Newton’s presence. “They are a better offensive team than what their second-half numbers show, but we guarded pretty well also.”
Here’s what happened off the court: with the dormant Tigers slinking back to the locker room trailing 23-13 at the half, Newton took a seat behind the basket next to his mentor and Auburn’s 2010 offensive coordinator. That’s Gus Malzahn, Auburn’s 2013 head coach.
Then in the second half, Newton wandered over to the student section. And was handed one of the cheerleaders’ bullhorns to lead the Jungle in chants.
“I hate to admit I was paying attention to the student section,” Payne said, “but yeah, I saw the cheers.”
And then Auburn (9-13, 3-6 SEC) couldn’t miss, on offense or defense, as the man who celebrates like Superman looked on. Almost by magic, Auburn’s shots suddenly flew through the basket with the greatest of ease, shooting a blazing 57 percent in the final 20 minutes – a stark contrast to the first half’s 13 percent clip.
Wallace and Payne each had 11 points to lead Auburn. At the half, neither had put in a basket – only Payne had a pair of free throws.
“We practice too hard to play like we did the first half,” Wallace said. “I just tried to get in the paint to set up other people’s shots, but I was finishing layups and knocking down free throws.”
Of course, none of this pleased the Crimson Tide (14-8, 6-3), which never found an offensive groove and lost for just the second time in seven games in the past month.
Despite leading 15-2 in the first 11 minutes, Alabama shot just 29 percent for the game and finished with its lowest point total in the 146-game history of this intrastate rivalry. Only four Crimson Tide scored field goals, led by 11 points each for Trevor Releford and Rodney Cooper.
“We had opportunities in the first half, we were up 15-2, and then we go seven minutes and don’t score,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “Their focus, their energy was just better than ours tonight. I have no explanation for that. I expect more out of our guys.”
Frankie hasn’t shaken his funk. Sullivan missed his first 11 shots at the rim, until a layup with 9:10 left saved him from imperfection – but the Tigers’ senior finished 1-for-13.
But Sullivan, Wallace, Rob Chubb and Noel Johnson, for the first time in their long Auburn careers, beat Bama in Auburn Arena.
“Before me and Frankie went out, we talked about this being our last go-around,” Wallace said. “No better way to go out than beating Alabama in our last time playing them here.”
The rematch is Feb. 26, in Tuscaloosa.