Sixth man seals win at Auburn

His two free throws provided Bama's winning margin Tuesday at Auburn, but afterwards Emmett Thomas wasn't interested in personal accolades. <br><br>"I really don't want to take the credit for the win," Thomas said. "I think everybody deserves this one."

A quick look at the box score proves his point. Kennedy Winston was Bama's offensive star, pouring in 27 points as he continued his recent red-hot streak. Freshman Jermareo Davidson had the best night of his still-young college career, scoring 15 points to go with his eight rebounds. And point guard Antoine Pettway, whose sore shoulder has limited his shooting in recent games, pulled down an improbably 12 rebounds to lead Alabama.

Like Thomas said, Tuesday's 72-71 win over the Tigers was a team win.

"Pettway had 12 rebounds; Ken was unbelievable, and Jermareo stepped up," Thomas said. "I was just in that situation at the end. But everybody contributed to this one."

Head Coach Mike Gottfried says the widespread contributions are no accident.

"I love to recruit guys with great character but that also know how to win," Gottfried explained. "Emmett Thomas' high school team won the state championship. A lot of our players have won championships. They're winners. They want to win, and they know the little things it takes to help get over the hump."

Thomas started two games while Earnest Shelton was sidelined with an injury, but for most of the season he's been the Tide's sixth man. He's averaging 21.3 minutes per game, tops among Bama's reserves. Thomas is scoring at a rate of 8.5 points per night. His .500 three-point percentage (on 40-of-80 attempts) leads the Tide squad.

Most of the media attention the past week has focused on Winston and his prodigious scoring, but Thomas has been on something of a roll himself recently. In Alabama's home loss to Vanderbilt he scored 11 points, and on the road in Starkville the senior wing man contributed 16 key points off the bench.

Up until the end of Tuesday's game, Thomas was unhappy with his performance. Alabama was playing fairly well, staying close to the hot-shooting Tigers on the road. But Thomas hadn't gotten untracked.

Late in the game Alabama down by one point but with possession of the ball called timeout.

Emmett Thomas plays defense against Vanderbilt. (AP photo by Jason Getz)

"During that timeout I knew I could do it," Thomas recalled. "The whole second half I hadn't done much. I didn't hit a shot. I knew that they were going to guard Ken (Winston) and Earnest Shelton. They left me wide open at the three-point line."

His teammates spotted Thomas alone at the top of the key and delivered the pass. Thomas went up for the shot, and out of the corner of his eye saw big Kyle Davis flying at him.

"When I saw Kyle jumping at me, I though I'd just draw the foul," Thomas revealed. "I knew right when I got fouled that I was going to make the play."

No question Thomas is telling the truth, but he made the issue more exciting than Bama fans would have liked by clunking his first free throw off the front of the rim.

He commented, "When I missed that first one, I just thought, ‘Emmett, you've been in this situation before.' I just cleared my head and really thought about the team. I had been talking to Pettway and (Reggie) Rambo and Demetrius (Smith) during the timeout."

With his teammates in mind, Thomas drained the next free throws giving Bama a one-point edge. Seconds later when the Tigers' final shot bounced off the rim harmlessly, the Tide had its second SEC road win in a row.

"It was awfully sweet," Thomas admitted. "It was great."

The victory pushes Bama's record to 14-10, 6-7 in the SEC. More importantly, the Tide's NCAA hopes remain alive, while Auburn's essentially vanished.

Both Thomas' parents graduated from Auburn, and his father played basketball there. As a child he grew up dreaming of hitting the final shots for the Tigers to defeat the Tide. But Auburn's coaches showed no interest, and Thomas ended up signing with Alabama.

So Tuesday's victory was sweeter than most. Thomas explained, "My whole life I wanted to come to Auburn. When I signed with Alabama my folks were like ‘How am I going to say Roll Tide?'

"To my parents back at home, Roll Tide!"

After losing at home to Vanderbilt, virtually everyone wrote this year's Bama team off. Everyone outside of the actual team, that is.

Thomas is averaging 8.5 points per game in a reserve role for the Tide. (AP photo)

"Our confidence is back," Thomas said. "We stayed together at Auburn. That's really what I like about that game and last Saturday. We kept our poise. We kept playing together. We kept believing. Our staff was behind us, and we came away with a great victory."

Thomas just echoed what his head coach had said minutes earlier.

"It's easy to get discouraged," Gottfried pointed out. "Auburn went down and made a couple of shots late in the game to take a lead on us. You can drop your head real quick, but there was a lot of basketball ahead. Emmett Thomas stepped up and made two huge free throws for us. We've got a great group of players that just keep playing hard every night."

Alabama has three games left in its regular season. Saturday the Tide hosts Mississippi, in a game most expect Bama to win. Next Wednesday Alabama travels to Arkansas to face a sub-par Razorback squad, but no SEC road game can be taken for granted. Then the following Saturday Mississippi State arrives in Tuscaloosa, hoping to avenge last week's loss.

Two more wins will virtually guarantee Alabama an NCAA bid, and one more (coupled with the Tide's outstanding strength of schedule and RPI numbers) could do the trick.

But Thomas doesn't want to talk about that.

"We can't think about the NCAA Tournament now," he explained. "We have three games left that we have to concentrate on, and then the SEC Tournament. When the NCAAs get here, that's when we'll worry about it."


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