Probably the last thing any of the fans in the sellout crowd expected to see on Saturday was Davis making key plays, or any plays, in the game's final minutes to lead the Tigers to their first SEC win in three tries. After the surgery, he was expected to be out of action anywhere from 2 1/2 to four weeks.
Davis finished the game with four points, five rebounds and three blocked shots in 16 minutes, however, those numbers don't begin to tell how big his role was. In the final minute, he forced a Tide turnover, blocked a shot and rebounded a missed free throw by Derrick Bird.
He did it without any practice and he did it playing in major pain. "I made the decision right before the game that this was a game I needed to be out there for," Davis said. "If not, I need to dress out there and let the team know that I am behind them 100 percent. With 15 minutes to go in the first half, I told coach, ‘Let me in. I have got to get in.' I wanted to play so bad. I knew if I played through pain I would be a better basketball player as well as a better individual."
Davis said he was in pain every second he was on the court. His appearance surprised everybody, including Tide coach Mark Gottfried who said, "He did make a difference"
Plenty of Tigers earned praise from Auburn's head coach. Freshman forwards Brandon Robinson and Marco Killingsworth were keys to the victory over a Bama team, now 14-3 and 1-2 in the league, that was ranked 14th and 15th in the major polls. Robinson had his second straight double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Killingsworth contributed eight points, seven rebounds and some good inside defense with Mack McGadney limited to four minutes of playing time with his knee problem.
Daniels led the Tigers with 15 points and nine rebounds and was in for an ironman-like 36 minutes. "He is so unselfish," Ellis said of the junior, who made the move to point guard when Jamison Brewer left early for the NBA. A year earlier, he moved from small forward to power forward after McGadney was hurt.
Sophomore forward Abdou Diame also won praise for Ellis for his 12 minutes of work off the bench. He just scored a point, but his defense, which was lacking early in the season, was a highlight for the player who is now out of the coach's doghouse.
Bama got 17 points from center Erwin Dudley, who was limited to 6-18 shooting. He led the Tide with nine rebounds. Alabama star Rod Grizzard made just 3-11 of shots as he was hounded by Bird. He had seven points and five rebounds. "Ferocious, just ferocious," Ellis said of Bird's defensive effort.
Auburn scored first on a Robinson tip-in, but Alabama responded with a pair of three-pointers by guard Maurice Williams and led the rest of the first half.
The Tide's edge reached eight points at the 11:10 mark as Grizzard's jumper made the score 16-8. Bama's largest first half margin was at 27-18 on a three-point shot by Demetrius Smith at the 5:31 mark. However, the Tigers outscored the visitors 12-5 to cut the leap to 32-30 at the half.
Robinson was the standout for the Tigers in the first half with 10 points and seven rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. Fellow freshman forward Killingsworth added six points and Daniels added six points.
The Tigers regained the lead at the 17:04 mark of the second half at 33-32 on running basket by Bird, who hit just three of 10 shots for his eight points. The Tigers stretched the lead to 40-36 at the 13:29 mark on a three-pointer from the wing by Lincoln Glass, causing Tide coach Gottfried to call his first timeout of the contest.
Auburn built the lead to 48-41 on a give and go from Adam Harrington to Davis at the nine-minute mark. The lead moved to 50-41 at the 7:35 mark on an inside move by Killingsworth. The lead then reached double digits at the 6:20 mark as Daniels hit a layup to make the score 53-43.
The Tide made then made its move, cutting the gap to two points at the 4:20 mark as Terrance Meade hit a pair of free throws to cap an eight-point run that caused Ellis to call a 30-second timeout.
Auburn had good looks but went cold shooting as the Tide pulled ahead 54-53 at the 2:38 mark. Bama stretched the lead to 56-53 after Demetrius Smith's layup followed a scramble for a loose ball.
Auburn ended its scoring drought at the 1:05 mark as Daniels drained a three-pointer at the top of the key to tie the game at 56-56. Gottfried called that the biggest of the game and said as soon as the ball was released, he could see it was right on target.
Auburn got the ball back with 49.9 seconds left when big Dudley was called for traveling on a pump fake as he tried to draw a foul on Davis. The Tigers then ran a play that broke Daniels free on the baseline. As he raced inside for a layup he was fouled with 34.3 seconds left. He calmly nailed both free throws to put the Tigers on top 58-56.
With the crowd urging the Tigers on for a defensive stand, that is exactly what happened as Davis blocked a shot and Bird was fouled with 8.6 seconds after he picked up the loose ball. Although the junior was brilliant on defense, he struggled with his shooting all evening and missed both ends of the two-shot foul.
However, Davis was there for another big play. This time he rebounded a high-kicking free throw and was fouled with 7.2 seconds left. In the process, his elbow was violently twisted and that enabled Ellis to substitute Glass off the bench to shoot the free throws. Since the center has made just 10-27 free throws this season without an elbow problem, the odds of him hitting one or both with a bad elbow weren't good.
Glass, normally the team's best foul shooter, had hit just five of nine this season coming into the game. He made the first, but the second was off target. The Tide raced the rebound to the front court for an uncontested three-pointer by Meade, but it was off target and the Tide lost as it played its first true road game of the season.
"It is amazing," Ellis said about the performance of Davis. "He showed a tremendous amount of heart."
Auburn will return to action with a 7 p.m. game on Wednesday night at Vanderbilt, which is 10-6 overall and 0-3 in the league.
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