Auburn scored just 10 points in the first 12-plus minutes of the second half after leading 31-26 at halftime and by double figures earlier in the game.
"They didn't play much of Hendrix (Richard Hendrix) and Davidson (Jermareo Davidson) at the same time in the second half," said Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "They went more to better defensive players in their seniors, Felix (Jean Felix) and Brock (Evan Brock), who can really defend a lot of different-sized people. We didn't get as good of a look in the second half as we did in the first.
Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said that the man-to-man defense was his biggest point of emphasis coming out of halftime.
"The difference tonight was the defense in the first 15 minutes of the second half," Gottfried said.
"They give you tough match-up problems when they go small," he added. "They're a tough team to guard if you want to defend them with your man defense. In the second half we went with only one post player and really tried to defend them. I thought for about 15 minutes we guarded them really well and that was the difference."
Alonzo Gee, who had a career high 21 points, hit two threes to begin the second half to pull the Crimson Tide within one and give his team momentum. After that Alabama slowly pulled away and eventually led by as much as 13.
"They were on a run, they had the crowd going and we were trying extra hard to get a bucket," said Auburn senior Ronny LeMelle. "We just kept coming up short. Shots were going in and out and we were missing free throws. Before we knew it they were up 10 and we were trying to climb back up the hill."
Auburn had its chance to get climb back into the game, but the Tigers didn't help themselves with a bad shooting performance. The Tigers made 12-29 field goals in the first half but only 11-33 in the second half, as well as an abysmal 5-16 from the free throw line in the final 20 minutes. They hit 7-18 free throws for the game for 38.9 percent.
"We shot poorly at the foul line and missed a bunch of front ends of one-and-ones," Lebo said. "When you go on the road and play, especially against a caliber of Alabama, you have to go 17-18, not 7-18."
Gee, who led all scorers with 21 points, has played his best basketball this season against Auburn. He scored 17 points and grabbed 10 boards in Alabama 56-52 win over their arch-rival in January.
"I knew about it (the rivalry) in football, but I didn't know it was big in basketball," Gee said after the game.
Jermaeo Davidson has a shot blocked by Auburn's Korvotney Barber.
The Tigers built their halftime lead on good defense and perimeter shots. Alabama didn't score until more than three minutes into the game on a lay-in by Hendrix to make the score 4-2 Auburn. Davidson grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed three by Ronald Steele to tie the game at 4-4, and Bama claimed its only lead of the first half at 9-8 on a free throw by Davidson with 13:59 remaining.
For the next several minutes both teams struggled to score and the game was knotted at 15-15 with just over five minutes to play. LeMelle, who made 3-9 shots in the first half, then sank a three and Hayles nailed a three with the shot clock running down and Auburn was up by six.
With the Tide boo-birds in full force, even though their team had only been called for three fouls compared to eight by the Tigers, a charge call on Davidson caused the coliseum to go into a frenzy. Gottfried was called for a technical foul for arguing with the officials and then had to get on the public address and tell Crimson Tide fans to "show their class" and not throw objects on the court.
LeMelle hit both of the technical free throws and Hayles sank another three-pointer to cap off an 11-0 run and put Auburn up 26-15 with 3:35 to play in the first half.
With the boos still echoing through Coleman Coliseum, the Crimson Tide finally gave their fans something to cheer about with a run of their own. A three from the corner by Gee and other by Felix pulled Bama to within two with 24 seconds remaining.
Auburn held for the final shot of the half and Hayles delivered again. He arched up a three that was so high it barely hit the net when it dropped through, and Auburn held a 31-26 halftime lead.
"The ball about hit the ceiling," Gottfried said.
Even though Auburn had been called for 11 fouls and Alabama for just four, the referees were booed off the court as they went into the tunnel for halftime.
The Crimson Tide quickly got over their displeasure with the officials by coming out and taking a quick lead, which Auburn could never overcome. Steele had zero points in the first half, but he attacked the basket more in the second half and finished with nine points.
"I think our mixing defenses bothered him (Steele) and when we went man-to-man we put a little bigger guy on him," Lebo said. "We put Hayles on him and Rasheem Barrett--just a bigger, stronger player. He's a good player and we did an excellent job in the first half of mixing and keep them off balance."
Hayles was 0-5 from long range, 0-6 from the field and 0-1 from the line in the second half.
"He's got the light to shoot them out there as long as they're open," Lebo said. "He had great looks. He had some really good looks from the perimeter. The problem they had (in the first half) was when they played Davidson and Hendrix together one of them had to guard either Hayles or Frank (Frank Tolbert). That's a hard match-up for them."
Brandon Hollinger is defended by Auburn's Frank Tolbert.
Another problem the Tigers had in the second half was foul trouble. Barrett fouled out and point guard Quantez Robertson had to sit for several minutes after picking up his fourth with 13:36 remaining.
Alabama improved to 17-10 overall, 10-5 in the SEC and locked up a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Auburn dropped to 12-14 overall and 4-11 in the SEC. The Tigers close the regular season Saturday against South Carolina.