Having been battle-tested early and often, the Tigers were well prepared for the SEC schedule and have beaten back-to-back Top 25 teams for the first time since the 1995-1996 season with wins over No. 22 Tennessee and No. 12 Alabama in the last week. And Jeff Lebo's squad was inches away from beating No. 13 LSU as Kelvin Lewis' game-winning three-point attempt rimmed out in the final seconds on Jan. 13 in Baton Rouge.
Sophomore Korvotney Barber attacks the basket for the Tigers.
The Tigers' 81-57 victory over Alabama on Tuesday improved the record to 13-8 overall and 3-3 in the tougher than usual SEC. All eight losses have come against respectable opponents.
"I told our guys we took a step into the pond with the win over Tennessee and we wanted to jump in up to our chin," Lebo says. "It felt good when we stepped in so we might as well try to get No. 2 and go ahead and dive in. We dove in tonight. It was a great team win.
"Our energy was terrific the entire game and a lot of that had to do with our fans, especially our students," he adds. "They were phenomenal coming out to the game at 6:30. We haven't seen that before. That got a lot of energy for our kids and that was a big help to win this game."
Jeff Lebo thanks Auburn's students after the coach's first victory over the Tide.
The Tigers played a total team game against the Tide. Led by Quantez Robertson, who created shots for forwards Korvotney Barber, Josh Dollard and Quan Prowell, the sophomore point guard dished out 10 assists and the Tigers pushed the tempo against a taller team with less depth.
Ball-handling and defense proved to be the difference as Auburn had 22 assists and 13 turnovers compared to just six assists and 17 turnovers for the Tide. The defensive pressure led to fast-break baskets with Robertson finding the right person at the right time as Barber went for 18 points, Dollard had 16 and Prowell scored his second straight double-double with 14 points and 10 boards.
"I can't even explain it," Dollard says of the feeling after the game. "Like coach said, this is a big win for us. A lot of people doubted us that we couldn't beat Alabama. They thought the Tennessee game was a fluke. Tennessee just had a bad game and they were doubting us.
"Alabama is a very good team. We came out knowing we had home court advantage and we had to do our job to beat Alabama, not only for the rivalry but for the team standpoint it boosts our confidence and to get the critics off us and let them know that wasn't a fluke.
"We're the real deal and we came to play," he adds. "We've got to give credit to Alabama. They're a good team and they came in and played hard, but we did what we had to do."
Tuesday's night blowout victory was Auburn's first victory over a team ranked that high since Jan. 14, 1995 against Arkansas. Not to be overlooked, Alabama's other two SEC road trips resulted in a 27-point loss to Arkansas and a 21-point loss to Vanderbilt. For the Tigers to prove that they are the "real deal," they need to beat a quality team away from home, as they're 0-6 away from Beard-Eaves, or beat a team like No. 1 Florida, which they will have a chance to do on Saturday.