BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – During a second-half media timeout of Tuesday’s Auburn-Alabama rematch, a student fan elicited one of the loudest ovations of the Crimson Tide’s 61-43 victory at Coleman Coliseum.
By draining his first free throw attempt, his first 3-point try and his second half-court heave, the young man not only won himself a barbecue dinner for 20 people. He proved there wasn’t, in fact, a lid on the basket where the Tigers were shooting.
He needed 25 seconds to score the equivalent of seven points. Meanwhile, in a nearby huddle, Auburn coach Tony Barbee was busy drawing a technical foul from the officials, frustration boiling over from his team only having scored eight points in nine minutes since halftime.
Both versions of this year’s “Iron Ball” were hard up for scoring; on Feb. 6, the Tigers enjoyed their most thrilling win this year, in a comeback with Cam back (Newton, that is) on campus.
But Alabama (19-9, 11-3 SEC) had little trouble pulling away late, ensuring a series split and fortifying their NCAA tournament at-large candidacy before an attendance of 12,633 fans.
“We’ve talked about the importance of every game going forward, but obviously any time you get a chance to play your in-state rival, it adds a different meaning,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “I thought our guys were really locked in early – very similar to the last time we played them from a defensive standpoint.”
“I think we were a better team than we were 20 days ago.”
Alabama leading scorer Trevor Releford was splendid in his encore, following a 36-point performance in the Crimson Tide’s three-overtime loss at LSU over the weekend. He poured in 21, bolstered by four 3-pointers.
Reserve swingman Nick Jacobs produced a neat double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“We were very determined,” Releford said. “We didn’t like the way it went down in Auburn. This is our home court and we had to defend it.”
Grant is known as a defensive coach, to be sure, but he’s been particularly irritating to Barbee’s offense. In 130 series meetings from 1952-2010, Auburn failed to reach 50 points just four times. In Barbee’s six chances, Auburn failed to reach 50 points four times.
Auburn center Rob Chubb had 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but no other Tigers exceeded six points.
Chubb’s co-captain, Frankie Sullivan, was 1-for-9 from the floor.
“This isn’t anything new or different of what I’ve seen all conference play from Frankie,” Barbee said.
Guards Sullivan, Josh Wallace, Chris Denson and Jordan Price combined for two assists and eight turnovers. Denson, who only played three minutes in Saturday’s loss at Ole Miss when Barbee judged his defensive effort as poor, was 0-for-5 from the field against the Tide.
Other than Chubb, Auburn shot 23 percent from the floor, including 2-for-15 from 3-point range. The Tigers’ 43 points is their lowest total of the season, and their worst output against Alabama since 1949.
“Missed layups, missed open shots, missed tip-backs right at the rim, and we didn’t shoot the ball very well,” Barbee said. “I thought we attacked the paint fairly well, (but) how are you going to win a game when you miss 20 layups?”
Auburn (9-19, 3-12) only has two 20-loss seasons in its history – a 6-26 finish in 1972-73, and 11-20 in Barbee’s first year on The Plains, two years ago.
One more loss, and it’ll be two out of three. But Barbee insisted he’s not giving in.
“Nope. No, no, no,” Barbee said, asked if he’s ready for this season to end. “Anybody knows me knows I’m a fighter. I thought my team fought today. We just couldn’t get the ball to go in.”
Barbee has, in recent weeks, questioned his team’s mental toughness, which Chubb admitted afterward has been an issue his senior year.
“There are definitely some guys that can go the extra mile, the extra effort, you know what I mean?” Chubb said. “Nobody in particular – it’s just a team effort, and you can’t win a game with one of the guys out of the five not doing everything.
“The thing about this team – sometimes it changes. It’s never just one person. Just a lot of little things add up to a big loss.”
On Saturday, Alabama has a huge follow-up game at No. 8 Florida while Auburn returns home to face Vanderbilt.
- Six of Alabama’s 11 SEC victories have been by four points or less. Other than a 75-43 drubbing at last-place Mississippi State, Alabama had not won a league game by more than 10 points until Tuesday.
- Alabama has beaten just four teams this year appearing in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s current tournament teams, and it’s not a particularly distinguished group. Kentucky, Villanova, South Dakota State and Charleston Southern are each projected to be no better than a 12-seed in the Big Dance.
- Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and his three-titles-in-four-years squad was recognized at halftime for retaining the James E. Foy Sportsmanship Trophy, going to the Iron Bowl victor. The Crimson Tide smoked Auburn 49-0 on Nov. 24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.