Tide Narrowly Avoids A Sweep By Basketball Tigers

The Tigers nearly spoiled Alabama's celebration on Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--Auburn made a strong attempt at postponing Alabama's SEC championship basketball party on Wednesday night before the Tide pulled out a 73-68 victory in the final minute.

Auburn rallied from a 14-point second half deficit, cutting the Tide lead to a single point with just over a minute to play. However, Bama was eight-of-eight at the free throw line in the final minute to pull out a victory.

The visiting Tigers were going for the season series sweep having beaten Bama 59-56 in Auburn back on Jan. 12th. That was one of just three conference setbacks for the Tide, which improved its record to 24-5 overall and 12-3 in the SEC.

Juniors Marquis Daniels and Derrick Bird paced the Tigers with double-doubles and another junior, Adam Harrington, led the Tigers in scoring with 16 points and was instrumental in AU's late charge.

Daniels scored 14 points and added a career-high 13 rebounds as the Tigers took a 47-35 rebounding edge in the contest. It was his second double-double of the season.

Bird, who nailed the three-point basket that cut the Tide lead to one, scored 11 points and added a career-high 10 rebounds with his first Auburn double-double. Additionally, he shut down Tide star Rod Grizzard for the second time this season. Grizzard was able to make just one of 10 shots.

However, Auburn had no answer inside for 6-8, 260-pound Tide junior Erwin Dudley, who led all scorers with 25 points. He tied Daniels for game rebounding honors with 13. Dudley scored 10 baskets and the rest of the team combined for 14.

With Dudley carrying the scoring load early, the home team jumped to the early lead. He helped Alabama build a 24-12 edge. The Tigers then outscored Bama 10-4 to cut the gap to six, but that was as close as they could get. By halftime, the margin was extended to 35-23.

Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said his team's strong work on the backboards enabled the Tigers to keep the game close. The Tigers hung tough in the second half as the home team was unable to build on its lead. The Tigers cut the gap to seven points just under the five-minute mark on back-to-back fastbreak baskets by Harrington.

A fastbreak basket by Daniels cut the gap to 63-58. The Tigers narrowed the margin to four points at 65-61 with 1:32 left as Harrington nailed a three-pointer. Bama then turned the ball over after a timeout and Bird hit a three-point shot to narrow the margin to one point.

Alabama stretched the lead to three with 59 seconds left on a pair of free throws by freshman guard Mo Williams, his team's second leading scorer with 15 points. Auburn set up a play for freshman forward Marco Killingsworth, but it was covered and Bird took a three-point shot that was off target. The Tide got the rebound and and Dudley gave his team a more comfortable five-point lead by hitting two foul shots.

Daniels then missed a three-point shot and Dudley increased the lead to seven with a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left. A Harrington jam cut the margin to five, but that was as close as the Tigers could get.

"Our team came in here and battled and had a chance to win," Ellis said. The Auburn coach added that he was impressed with how his players kept their poise in a very hostile atmosphere with a sellout crowd of 15,316 at Coleman Coliseum. "I can't say enough about our team," He added.

Alalbama stretched its homecourt winning streak to 18 games with 17 of those coming this season. "It was great to beat Auburn, but it was special to win the SEC Championship," said Tide coach Mark Gottfried, who credited junior Dudley with helping his sixth-ranked team avoid the upset.

Alabama helped negate Auburn's plus 12 rebound margin by committing just 12 turnovers, eight less than the Tigers.

Both teams took 61 shots and made 24. Bama had four treys while Auburn hit three. The main difference was at the free throw line where Bama, the league's leading free throw shooting team, made 21-25 while Auburn made 17-25.

Daniels had a huge game on the boards with four offensive rebounds and nine on the defensive end as he played both small forward and point guard. Two guard Bird added five offensive and five defensive rebounds and reserve guard Harrington added seven rebounds to match the total from freshman forward Killingsworth.

Auburn, which fell to 12-14 with the loss and 4-11 in the SEC, wraps up the regular season with a 1 p.m. home game on Saturday vs. LSU.

Box Score

Tiger Ticket Extra: Adam Harrington has scored in double figures in Auburn's last four games. Each of those performances came in a reserve role.

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