Emmett Thomas made two of three free throws–he was fouled attempting a three-point shot–with 6.9 seconds to play to pull out the victory for Alabama. The Tide is now 14-10 overall and 6-7 in Southeastern Conference games. The Tide has now had back-to-back big road victories, including the 77-73 win over fourth-ranked Mississippi State last Saturday.
Much was made of the fact that Alabama had not defeated Auburn in Auburn since 1996 prior to Tuesday's nationally-televised basketball game. So much for that minor bragging right for the Tigers. The win was Alabama's second of the year over Auburn. Bama had a blowout 69-46 win over Auburn in Tuscaloosa earlier this year and now has a 79-55 advantage in the series.
Alabama returns to Tuscaloosa's Coleman Coliseum hosting Mississippi at 3 p.m. Saturday in a game that will be regionally telecast by Jefferson Pilot. Bama fell to the Rebels in Oxford earlier this year, 71-60. Conventional wisdom has it that Alabama must win at least two more games to make the NCAA Tournament field. Alabama has two home games, the Mississippi and Mississippi State (March 6) games sandwiched around a road game at Arkansas (March 3).
As has often been the case, Alabama fought the good fight, and this time the Tide was able to finish in the final moments. Down by 12 points early in the second half, Alabama had a four-point lead in the final four minutes, but Auburn erased that 68-64 lead with a seven-point run. Antoine Pettway, who had a game-hgih 12 rebounds against Auburn, made a layup to pull the Tide within a point, then got his final rebound to give Bama its final chance. Alabama had the ball with 18 seconds, trailing by a point, and Thomas–the son of Auburn graduates–launched a three-pointer. The shot missed, but Thomas was fouled. He missed his first foul shot, then tied the game with his second, and made the winning point with his third.
While Thomas had the deciding point, Kennedy Winston–last week's SEC co-Player of the Week for his 31-point performance against Mississippi State, poured in 27 points to lead the Tide. Winston also had seven rebounds. Freshman center Jermareo Davidson had 15 points and eight rebounds on a night when Chuck Davis, who is usually the Tide's top inside player, had an off-night. Davis had the first two points of the game and didn't have another point.
Alabama Head Basketball Coach Mark Gottfried said, "That was a great, great college basketball game. I am so proud of our players. They were down eight at the half, came back and took the lead, lost the lead, then did what it took. Our guys are playing hard every night. It's a great group to coach and I am so proud of them. We've been plugging and fighting and a lot of times things have gone against us."
Gottfried said, "We need an off-day after two emotional wins. And then we need to get focused for these final three regular season games."
Auburn took a 43-35 halftime lead by scoring the final eight points before intermission in the last minute and a half. The final three-pointer of nine the Tigers made against Bama's zone defense in the first half was a desperation toss from near halfcourt at the buzzer. Auburn came into the game as the SEC's worst three-point shooting team, but the Tigers made 12 of 27–44 per cent–against Alabama. Ian Young, who came into the game averaging only nine points per game, had a career night on three-pointers and finished with a game-high 28 points.
There were 11 lead changes and five ties in the opening stanza. Alabama was playing short-handed in that half as three starters–Kennedy Winston, Chuck Davis, and Earnest Shelton–had two fouls each. Auburn's lead came despite a surprising 22-11 Alabama had in rebounding.
Auburn had a 48-36 lead early in the second half, but Bama kept battling and took the lead for the first time in the second half at 60-58 on a Winston three-pointer with 7:20 to play. Auburn regained the lead at 69-68 with 2:30 to play and held the lead until Thomas's free throws.
Alabama hit 27 of 62 field goals, 43.5 per cent, while Auburn was good on only 21 of 57 shots from the field, 36.8 per cent. While Auburn had excellent three-point shooting overall at 12-27 for 44 per cent, the Tigers made only three treys in the second half. Alabama was six of 17 on three-pointers, 35 per cent. Auburn made 17 of 21 free throws, 81 per cent, while Alabama was good on 12 of 17 for 71 per cent. Alabama out-rebounded the taller Tigers, 40-35. It was a relatively error-free game insofar as turnovers with the Tigers having only 11, Bama–with only one in the second half–only 10.