AUBURN – Both Austin Wiley and Mustapha Heron were recruited by Avery Johnson to play basketball at Alabama. Both chose Auburn. Both helped Auburn beat Alabama 84-64 Saturday at Auburn Arena.
Wiley (6-11, 255) was playing at Spain Park this time last year. He had 19 points, nine rebounds, both career bests a month into his tenure. He was 11-for-18 at the foul line alone. Wiley’s parents both played on the Plains, so Bama had no shot at signing him, despite its efforts.
“I really just wanted to beat them, for real,” Wiley said. “I grew up in this rivalry.”
Heron, a sharp-shooting guard, finished with 15 points on 3-for3 shooting behind the arc, all in the second half.
“Today’s game was a game unlike one we’ve had recently ,” said Johnson. “ We tend to have mental and physical stamina to give ourselves a chance to win. That didn’t happen today.
“We couldn’t handle big Wiley inside. He got the ball too deep. Give them credit for executing better on both ends of the floor than we did. This wasn’t one of our better games. I don’t know how many air balls we shot, which was pretty amazing.”
Added Tigers Coach Bruce Pearl: “Alabama is one of the best defensive teams in our league, and they’re a physical team, but we hung in there. Austin Wiley was an enormous difference. This game means a lot to Austin. Understanding the rivalry, he wants to beat Alabama. His presence was enormous .”
Things started well when Braxton Key (who led Bama with 18 points) drove for a hoop but missed a chance for a 3-point play. Bama got the loose ball, and Donta Hall was fouled trying to dunk. He split a pair at the line.
At the 15:09 media timeout, Alabama (11-7, 4-2 SEC) led 10-5, helped by a 3-ball by Dazon Ingram.
Ronnie Johnson was fouled by Ingram shooting a 3, and he hit two of three at the stripe to draw the Tigers within a point with 12:30 to go in the half.
Auburn (13-6, 3-4) tied the game after two Bryce Brown 3-balls. After a first half that featured four ties and no lead changes, the scoreboard showed the teams tied at 30 at the break. The Tide led for 17:50 of the first 20 minutes. At the break, Key had nine points and Norris eight.
(Interestingly, at the 7:50 media time out, Auburn introduced its new early football enrollees to the paid crowd of 9,121. Baylor transfer/quarterback Jarret Stidham drew the loudest applause.)
The Tigers took their first lead less than a minute into the second half on a Horace Spencer drive.
Ingram drew his third foul less than two minutes in, but played on. Bama regained the lead when Bola Olaniyan (11 rebounds) fed Ingram for a lay-in. With 11:23 left in the game, the Tide held a tenuous 45-44 lead. Auburn closed the game with a 40-19 run. In the last five minutes, Bama shot two-for-10 from the floor.
“We didn’t put them on their heels. We didn’t put them in a bind. We had too many careless turnovers,” Johnson said.
“Their plan was get the ball into Wiley. (Heron’s 3s) were sort of deflating, but I’m a little bit concerned with why we had to throw up so many 3s to try to stay into the game.”
Auburn went 28-42 at the foul line. Alabama? Just 10-for-19.
Johnson said it was not the officials, though. Not this time. “That has nothing to do with officiating. That has everything to do with Alabama’s lethargic play on defense,” he said.
Walk-ons from both teams played the last 23 seconds. Auburn’s Patrick Keim, a junior from Mountain Brook, buried a trey at the buzzer to rub salt into a gashing Tide wound. Pearl led post-game cheers with the Auburn student section. The Tide headed for the locker room and the bus home.
No Crimson Tide players joined Johnson in the interview room after the game. Besides Key, Norris was the only other Bama player in double digits, but he scored but two after the break to finish with ten points.
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Alabama will travel to Georgia (12-7, 4-3) Wednesday with tip time set for 8:00 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU. The Bulldogs lost at Texas A&M Saturday, 63-62.