Austin Wiley (above) led all scorers in the game.
Wiley, an early high school graduate, led the basketball Tigers with a season-high 19 points and nine rebounds.
"My mindset's I really just wanted to beat them because I grew up in the rivalry and it was a hyped game--really hyped coming into it," Wiley said. "I just wanted to continue the legacy and beat Alabama. We played a great game today.
The son of former Tiger basketball stars Vickie Orr and Aubrey Wiley played his best basketball of his young college career in the second half when the Tigers outscored the Tide by 20 points. "I did a better job rebounding and I played better defense," he said of his performance in the final 20 minutes.
Wiley hit 4-9 field goals and 11-18 free throws while adding five offensive rebounds and four defensive rebounds plus showed a level of energy that prompted the student section at packed out Auburn Arena to chant his name in the second half.
"We just couldn't handle big Wiley," said Alabama coach Avery Johnson, who got 18 points from Braxton Key. "They kept getting the ball into the paint. That was their plan."
Heron, who had just a single point in the first half, came alive after that and kept his string of consecutive double figures scoring games going as he finished with 15 points. The freshman guard said the Tide did a good job in the first half from allowing him to touch the ball, but after he hit a three-pointer from the corner that sparked his play. "I knew it was going in as soon as it left my hands and I knew I was going to be able to get it started from there."
Mustapha Heron said he enjoyed his first Auburn-Alabama game.
Graduate transfer Ronnie Johnson continued his recent strong play with 17 points off the bench and was a key for the Tigers as they pulled away in the closing minutes to improve their record to 13-6 overall and 3-4 in the SEC. Alabama dropped to 4-2 in the league and 11-7 overall. Johnson hit 5-7 field goals and was 6-8 at the foul line.
"I am sensing some real progress," said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who praised the crowd for the energy it brought.
"Austin Wiley was enormous for us," said Pearl, who noted that Wiley grew up in-state in Birmingham and understands the rivalry his parents played in.
Pearl also had high praise for Johnson, whose 17 points came in 20 minutes. He added two assists and one steal while handling the Tide's defensive pressure. "Ronnie Johnson, again, played great for us and was able to finish and didn't have a turnover for us. We have two really strong points guards that are leading the team."
Auburn never led in the first half that ended in a 30-30 tie. Alabama led by as many as seven points at the 15:45 mark thanks to a strong performance on the offensive boards. The Tide had nine offensive rebounds in the opening half that led to nine second chance points while Auburn scored five second chance points.
Auburn hit 10-21 (47.6 percent) on field goals in the opening half while Alabama made 12-31 (38.7 percent). Auburn made 3-7 threes while Alabama made 4-11. The Tigers were 7-13 at the foul line in the half while Alabama made 2-6. The Tide had an 18-16 edge in rebounds and turned the ball over eight times, one less than the Tigers.
For the game Auburn hit an even 50 percent from the field, making 24-48 shots. Auburn was 8-13 on threes and 28-42 at the foul line. Alabama hit 24-58 field goals (41.4 percent). The Tide was 6-21 on threes and 10-19 at the foul line.
Tide coach Johnson said the difference in free throws attempted didn't have anything to do with the officiating. He said it was aggressive offensive play by the Tigers.
Auburn took its first lead in the opening minute of the second half and led almost the entire period.
Asked what sparked the Tigers to the victory in the second half, Heron was short and to the point. "Defense. I think defense and rebounding are what started that run off."
Ronnie Johnson mentioned defense and rebounding as the keys. "When we got the rebound we got a chance to push the ball up and find people in the open court," noted the graduate transfer, who said the contest's intensity reminded him of the Purdue vs. Indiana rivalry games he played in at Purdue.
Commenting on the Tigers, who have won three of their last four games with the only loss a road game at Kentucky, Pearl said, "A couple of days ago I asked the team if it’s starting to feel like it’s coming together a little bit, but I don’t know if they were sure whether it was or not. I am sensing some real progress though.
"Alabama came in and they have won six out of the last seven, plus a 10-rebound margin and they are one of the best defensive teams in our league. You could tell early that we are young and we weren’t very sure of ourselves in the early going, but we hung in there.
"The crowd was amazing and this is the kind of atmosphere that we want for the Iron Bowl of basketball," Pearl added. "I know when we go up to Alabama in two weeks that it’s going to be rocking up there as well. We talked about the fact that we wanted ESPN to be at this game, and those guys called the game. That’s a big step for both programs."
Alabama's coach wasn't pleased with what he saw, particularly in the final 20 minutes. "This is probably one of our worst defensive halves I have seen," Johnson said. "Give them credit. They did a nice job. We did a nice job on Mustapha in the first half. We did a great job on (Jared) Harper all game, but Ronnie Johnson comes off the bench and scores for them."
Johnson said a big problem was the Tide defense let Wiley get the ball in scoring position close to the basket and the double-teams on the Auburn freshman center were late arriving. "So give them credit for executing on both ends of the floor more than we did," the coach said.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Danjel Purifoy returned from his ankle injury and played 29 minutes. He scored five points and pulled in three rebounds.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Auburn matched Alabama in rebounds with both teams pulling in 34. Rebounding has been the Tide's strength this season.
Worth Noting, Part 3: T.J. Lang, a former starter, did not see action as the Tigers decided not to use him at forward and go with a bigger lineup while using other players at guard, where Lang has also been playing.
Stat of the Game: Auburn hit 5-6 three-pointers in the second half.