Long, Ugly Game Won By Alabama

Alabama and Auburn crammed few minutes of decent basketball into an interminably long two-and-a-half hours to play 40 minutes game, before a fairy tale ending for the Crimson Tide. For most of the night it looked like Bama's visions of sugar plums -- Southeastern Conference championship, NCAA bid -- had been stolen by a Grinch in the form of Auburn.

But JaMychal Green tipped in a Tony Mitchell miss with :03 seconds remaining, and Alabama escaped with a 51-49 victory over Auburn in Tuscaloosa Wednesday night. A desperation heave of 70 or so feet by the Tigers' Allen Payne as the clock rolled to 0:00 hit the rim, but fell off. (It wouldn't have counted in any event as there must be :04 or more time for a shot--not a tipin--to be taken.)

Green said, "I saw Tony was off balance when he went up, and I was able to get into position for the tip. That's the first time in a long time I've won a game with a tip-in."

Alabama trailed almost the entire game, often by double digit margins, but used free throws to overcome horrible shooting from the field.

Auburn Coach Tony Barbee said the defensive plan was "to play zone and hoped they missed." The Tigers coach said the problem was that his team made too many fouls. And he gave credit to Alabama for making plays in the face of adversity.

Alabama made only 11 field goals on the night. Auburn seemed to be playing a Kentucky defense -- keep fouling and hope the officials quit calling them. But Auburn isn't Kentucky and the officials kept whistling. The Tigers were guilty of 29 fouls and Alabama won the game by making 27-40 free throws to 10-19 for Auburn.

Both teams played a mixture of man-to-man and zone with traps and full court pressing. Alabama was very aggressive in its press, one rason the Tigers had 23 turnovers. Bama had 19.

Alabama finished with four assists, Auburn with five.

The win before a Coleman Coliseum sellout of 15,383 improved Alabama to 19-8 overall and a Southeastern Conference best 11-2 record.

The SEC Eastern Division leader, Florida, with a 10-2 conference record, hosts Georgia Thursday night.

Auburn fell to 9-18 and 2-11 in league games. Alabama had defeated the Tigers 68-58 in Auburn earlier this year.

Alabama goes on the road Saturday to take on the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford. Tipoff will be at 3 p.m. CST. The Crimson Tide defeated Mississippi, 74-64, in Tuscaloosa on Feb. 12.

Green was the only Alabama player in double figures in scoring, and that was because of free throws. He made 4-11 field goal tries, but was good on 9-14 free throws for 17 points. Auburn's leading scorer was Earnest Ross, who had 10 points before he fouled out.

Alabama made 11-42 from the field for 26.2 per cent. Auburn was good on 18-42 for 42.9 per cent. Auburn was 3-8 on three-point shots, Bama 2-12. The Tide made 27-40 free throws for 67.5 per cent, the Tigers only 10-19, 52.6 per cent.

Auburn had 34 rebounds, Alabama 35.

Alabama was tied with Auburn only once in the first half, at 14-14, and trailed the Tigers by 31-25 at halftime. A spate of turnovers to start the second half put Bama even deeper into a hole. Auburn led by as many as 12 points in the second half.

But with a 41-29 lead at the 11:53 mark, Auburn went cold. It took the Tigers four minutes to get on the board again with a couple of free throws. Meanwhile, Alabama was cutting into the lead, primarily with free throws.

JaMychal Green hit two, then Charvez Davis made one of two after a technical foul on the Auburn bench. Trevor Releford took a steal and went the length of the court for a layup and was fouled and made the shot. It was 41-34.

After the Tigers got a pair of free throws, Alabama got a pair back by Davis. It was 43-36. Green was fouled and made two. 43-38 with 6:10 to play.

Alabama got a steal with 4:40 to play and with 4:33 to play Mitchell made two free throws, to make it 43-40. Andrew Steele was fouled and made one of two free throws, 43-31.

After Auburn shot an air ball on the front end of a one-and-one, Davis tried a short jumper. He missed it, but Steele tipped it in.

Alabama had tied the game at 43-43 with 3:24 to play.

With 2:54 to play another Auburn foul gave Green two more free throw opportunities. He made one. Alabama had its first lead of the game at 44-43.

Auburn got the lead back on a shot jumper by Tony Neysmith (there should not have been anything approaching a reference to basketball inventor Naismith in this game), 45-44 with 2:28 to play.

Green again made one of two free throws. Tie game, 45-45, with 2:21 to play.

With 1:38 to play Steele got a steal and drove the lane. He missed the layup, but Mitchell was there to tip it in for a 47-45 Bama lead.

Alabama returned the foul favor, Releford fouling Josh Wallace, who made a pair to tie the game with 53 seconds.

Green was back at the foul line with 44 seconds to play and made just one for a 48-47 lead. Auburn tried a three-pointer, and Releford got the rebound. He was fouled, but made just one. It was a two-point lead when Neysmith scored in close for 49-49 with 12 seconds to play.

Alabama called time out with 7.6 seconds, got the ball to Mitchell who drove in close to shoot. He missed, but Green tipped it home.

It is hard to imagine a more miserable half of basketball than Bama's first half performance, and yet the Tide trailed by only six points, 31-25. With just under three minutes to play Bama had trailed by 15 at 31-16, but Auburn did not make another point in the half.

Alabama hit a couple of late shots to improve its field goal shooting to 22.7 per cent. The Tide was 5-22. Meanwhile, Auburn hit 13-23 first half shots for 56.5 per cent. Down the stretch, JaMychal Green made a tough layup. On Bama's next trip, Green was in position on a rebound and slammed it home. The Bama press forced a turnover, and Green was fouled. He made them both. Green had made six points and cut the lead to single digits at 31-22.

In the final seconds, after Auburn had missed on the front end of a one-and-one foul shot situation, Alabama got an unexpected three-point shot from little-used Charles Hankerson. Auburn was unable to get off a shot and the halftime margin was only six points.

Bama never led in the first half and had to make a nice run for the only tie of the half. Down 14-6, the Tide got two free throws from Tony Mitchell. Green scored on an alleyoop, a nice pass from Chris Hines. After a steal on the press, Hines was fouled and made both free throws to make it 14-14 with 8:49 to play.

But Alabama was unable to sustain as Auburn went on a 6-0 run.

Alabama had 12 first half turnovers, but Auburn had 11.

Free throws were critical in Alabama playing close. The Tide made 13-14 (Mitchell and Hines were both 4-4), while Auburn made only 4-9.

A key statistic for Alabama this year has been points in the paint, with Bama winning that battle in every win. The Tigers had a 16-10 lead in points in the paint in the first half, but didn't score in the paint in the second half. Alabama had only four points until Green's tip-in made that statistic even at 16-16 and won the game for Bama.

Both teams started man-to-man, both teams trapping, both teams some zone (Auburn more), and both teams pressing

Charvez Davis had poor first half (0-4, two air balls on treys) and Senario Hillman started for him in second half.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant gave full credit to Auburn for Bama's poor performance. "We found a way to win the game," he concluded.

He said Auburn's aggressive defense "was very effective, and we weren't effective in countering it.

"We were really out of sync. I wish I could explain it to you. I have to take the blame for that. We have to be ready to play. We have to attack on both ends of the court and we didn't do that tonight. We didn't do the things we need to do on the defensive end of the court."

Grant said he told his team, "Sometimes you need those near-death experiences."

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