Tyler Harris (above) plays defense for the Tigers vs. Retin Obasohan.
Tuscaloosa, Ala.--With both teams struggling mightly at the free throw line in a game with 47 fouls called, Alabama took control in the closing minutes to rally for an 65-57 SEC basketball victory over Auburn on Saturday to split the season series.
The loss at Coleman Coliseum dropped the Tigers to 11-17 overall and 5-11 in the SEC while the Crimson Tide improved to 17-11 (8-8 SEC).
Auburn hurt its cause with 18 turnovers, five more than Alabama, and at the foul line. The Tigers hit just 12-27 free throws in a game in which they gave up a 10-point lead in the second half. Alabama wasn’t much better at the foul line, making just 17-29.
“I don’t know if you would call that a good game from the standpoint of not knowing how well both teams played, but it was certainly a competitive game,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.
“I told our team to go on the road against a potential NCAA Tournament team and be (in it at the end) was positive,” he added. “We had too many turnovers, too many missed free throws and we did not make enough plays down the stretch. Alabama did.”
Up 44-34 in the second half with 14:58 remaining in the game, Pearl’s team was positioned well to potentially get its second win of the season over the Tide. Auburn was hot to start the second half going on a 15-3 run.
However, the hot shooting for Auburn wore off fast. The Tigers did not make a field goal for a stretch of 10 minutes and 22 seconds in the foul-plagued second half. Bryce Brown’s three pointer with 3:20 remaining broke a streak that began with Tyler Harris’s layup at the 14:42 mark.
“I thought they established (themselves) and started to score a little bit,” Pearl said of why Auburn went though such a drought. “Alabama was top blocking both Brown and (T.J.) Lang. If you’re not quick enough to get yourself open off of backdoors or screens then there’s no penalty paid for being top blocked. I thought they did a good job (on defense).”
Alabama was able to essentially shut down Lang. The sophomore, who busted out Wednesday with a career high 21 points, was held to only two points on 1-3 shooting. Alabama Head Coach Avery Johnson admitted that “slowing down” Lang was a key to their success.
The Tigers were able to get star Tide point guard Retin Obasohan in foul trouble in the first half, but the senior was able to reel off seven points in the final two minutes to seal the victory for his team.
“(Obasohan) was in foul trouble in the first half so he didn’t play as much,” Pearl noted. “I thought we did okay. I mean, we didn’t turn him over, but I thought we contained him pretty well. He shot 5-12. He’s a terrific player.” Obasohan finished with a game-high 16 points, six rebounds and three assists.
One positive Auburn can take from the contest is the improved offensive play of freshman center Horace Spencer. The Philadelphia native set a second season high of 10 points in as many games, but fouled out late in the second half. Pearl was pleased with his performance.
Horace Spencer dunks on Saturday vs. the Tide.
“Horace played great,” Pearl said emphatically. “They only gave him one block. He had some really good ones out there. That’s going to be an interesting tape to watch with Horace. I thought he had a couple more blocks out there. He’s good...I thought he had a bunch of blocks. I thought he had a lot of good clean ones, but it just didn’t happen.”
Alabama took an 18-9 lead halfway through the first period as Auburn missed seven of its first eight shots. The Tide lead reached double figures a 24-14 with 7:34 left in the half, but the Tigers used an 8-2 run to cut it to 26-22 on a Spencer slam with just under four minutes left before intermission.
Auburn closed the period on 15-7 run to trail 31-29 despite hitting just 9-25 field goals in the half.
A three-pointer by Brown, who led the Tigers in scoring with 14 points, put Auburn ahead for the first time at 36-33. A layup by Cinmeon Bowers put the Tigers ahead at 44-34, but the home team slowly cut into the margin as Auburn’s shooting touch went cold.
A basket by Obasohan put the Tide ahead 50-49. The Tigers had a chance to win until the closing minutes, but struggled to score.
Bowers had his 13th double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 rebounds, but made just 5-15 field goals and 1-6 free throws.
Back from a concussion that kept him out of the previous game vs. Georgia, Harris added seven points and 12 rebounds while T.J. Dunans scored nine points with five assists, six turnovers, two steals and one blocks in 38 minutes at the point guard position.
T.J. Dunans launches a jump shot on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
Arthur Edwards scored 15 points for Alabama and Donta Hall, who hit 5-6 shots, added 10 points.
“We didn’t play well, we didn’t take care of the ball and we didn’t execute from the free throw,” Pearl said. “When you don’t take of the ball that is coaching. It is having them prepared, having them organized.
“A lot of times I say it doesn’t matter what we run, run something,” Pearl said. “We didn’t run anything early and after the three or four minutes, I thought through the first half and to start the second half, we ran stuff. We got good spacing, we got shots.
“Then in the second half we just stopped running the fastbreak completely. We have got to get the ball rebounded, get it outletted quicker and get it down the floor faster and take advantage of transition. This is as slow as I have ever played.”
Alabama held a 37-36 edge in rebounds, but was outshot from the field by the Tigers, who hit 42.6 percent to 38.9 percent for the home team. Auburn was 5-14 on threes while the Tide made 6-19. Each team got 21 points from the bench.
The Tigers will hope to rebound in their final home game of the season when they play host to the SEC-leading Texas A&M Aggies (22-7, 11-5 SEC) on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 8:00 p.m. CST with the game being televised by ESPNU.