The victory improves Auburn to 16-13 overall and 6-8 in SEC play and moves the Tigers into third place in the Western Division with two regular season games remaining.
The story of the day was the play of Barber early in helping to set the tempo. Using his speed to beat the bigger Alabama post players down the court, Barber scored six of Auburn's first 10 points as the Tigers kept their composure early on the road and got into the rhythm of the game. Coach Jeff Lebo says the fast start early was crucial for his team to pick up just the second victory for an Auburn team in Tuscaloosa in the last 23 tries.
"It was a terrific effort from our kids," Lebo says. "I thought that we really wanted to push the ball here on the road and we did that and made some shots early, which were important to us. We made some three-point shots early and I thought we moved the ball well. Offensively we were pretty crisp. Defensively, we were good enough.
"Korvotney Barber I thought was terrific," he adds. "He had a double-double in the first game against Alabama and comes back with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He had six offensive rebounds in only 28 minutes of play."
Starting true freshman point guard DeWayne Reed and moving Quantez Robertson to the two-guard spot to create a quicker lineup to counter Alabama's size, Lebo says he wanted a faster game from his team and that's what he got early as Auburn seized the momentum from the outset behind the play of Barber.
"I thought he did some good things," Lebo says of Reed. "He handled the basketball and looked poised on the road in a hostile environment. In the second half we got off to a nice lead and hung on and made some free throws, which was nice."
Trying for the regular season sweep against Alabama, the Tigers came out swinging in the first half and they knocked the Crimson Tide a little woozy early with a frenzied pace led by Reed and Robertson. Following the first basket of the game by Jamareo Davidson, Auburn countered with six-straight points and Josh Dollard, Robertson and Barber scored on consecutive baskets to give Auburn an early cushion.
With Alabama's talented point guard Ronald Steele on the bench early because of continued health problems, Auburn was able to take advantage of that to keep the lead throughout the first half with the exception of a short burst by Alabama at the 15-minute mark when a Brandon Hollinger basket on a lay-up gave the Crimson Tide a 12-9 lead.
Auburn immediately answered as Barber continued his strong play in the paint by getting fouled. After making the first free throw, Barber missed the second by Prowell was in the right place at the right time. His put-back on the miss tied the score and gave Auburn the momentum it needed.
Barber had a double-double in the first meeting between the rivals in Auburn and accomplished the same feat in round two.
The two teams traded baskets back and forth for the next two minutes, but it was clear Auburn was beginning to find its rhythm both on offense and defense with Davidson on the bench with two fouls. Two players who had been missing in action lately came up big during the Auburn run as both Rasheem Barrett and Kelvin Lewis hit two three-pointers in a span of less than four minutes. The second by Lewis gave Auburn a 26-21 advantage with eight minutes left in the half.
A Dollard steal and dunk pushed the lead to seven just moments later and the lead would grow to nine with just over five minutes left when a Barber rebound and layup made the score 32-23. At that point Davidson came back in the game and immediately made his presence felt with a three-point play to cut the lead back to six. Another basket the next trip down made it four and a Mykal Riley runner seemed to get Alabama back in the game as the lead was down to just two, but Auburn answered like it had done all half long.
Back-to-back baskets by Tolbert made it 36-30 Tigers and another Barber basket pushed the lead back to eight before two late Alabama baskets left Auburn with a 38-34 lead at intermission.
Barber had a tremendous first half against the bigger Alabama front line. Using his quickness to his advantage, Barber scored 12 points and pulled down seven rebounds as the Tigers outrebounded the Crimson Tide in the first 20 minutes. Coming off the bench, Barrett and Lewis added six in the half while Dollard, Robertson and Tolbert all had four. Davidson led the way for Alabama with 11 first-half points and seven rebounds.
The second half was all about the play of Prowell. A game-time decision after being bothered by pink eye and waking up Saturday morning with one eye swollen shut, Prowell had an impressive day for the Tigers. Lebo says the junior was huge in the second half as his play lifted Auburn to a big lead they would hold onto for the win.
"I didn't know if he was going to be able to play this morning," Lebo says. "Maybe we would like to have him shoot with one eye from now on. He made some big, big shots for us. The kid has been struggling a little bit offensively and it was nice to see him come back. We needed it."
Alabama closed strong in the first, but that didn't matter to the Tigers as they came out blazing in the final 20 minutes. Auburn ripped off six consecutive points out of the break to push the lead quickly to 10 before a Riley basket got Alabama on the board.
The Tigers were just getting started though as it was time for Prowell to take over the game. With the lead holding at nine, Prowell scored to make it 51-40 Auburn at the 15-minute mark. Following a Davidson basket, Prowell rained a three from the left side to make it a 12-point advantage.
Another Barber basket made it 14 before Prowell again drained a three-pointer with 13:13 left. Holding a 17-point lead on the road in Tuscaloosa, Auburn then went about the business of making sure that lead held up against a dangerous Alabama club.
Prowell continued to be the catalyst for the Tigers in the second half as his final three of the game with eight minutes left put Auburn up 68-50. From that point forward it was gut-check time for the young Auburn squad as Alabama made a strong run behind the play of Alonzo Gee, Mikail Torrance and Hendrix. The Crimson Tide scored the next 11 points over a span of just over three minutes to cut the lead back to just seven before a big Tolbert basket in the lane ended the Auburn drought and pushed the lead back to nine.
Alabama continued to chip away at the lead as both Gee and Hendrix picked up the pace of their games and got to the foul line to score with the clock stopped. The duo each made one free throw to push the lead down to seven with just over two minutes remaining, but a huge Dollard hook shot with 1:50 left settled the Tigers and allowed them to finish strong on the way to the win.
"We had some key plays in the second half I thought," Lebo says. "When they were making their run, I thought one possession in the end when we ran the shot clock down and Josh Dollard made the shot, that was a big play for us. In those games you get up about 15 or 16 and you get into a pickle on whether you want to run clock or you want to continue to push the basketball. We got into that pickle a little bit and got a little slower than we would like and they got a little momentum going offensively."
The basket settled the Tigers and made the remaining two minutes all about shooting free throws. With Alabama fouling as quickly as possible, Auburn was forced to seal the win at the free throw line, something that has been a sore spot for the team this season. When they were needed the most the Tigers drained 12 of 16 free throws with the game in the balance. Not playing like a freshman, Reed made six of six, including the final four. Lebo says he's proud of the way his team finished off the victory by hitting some big shots and making free throws.
"We handled the ball well and didn't get rattled," Lebo says. "In the end we made some free throws. When we stepped up to the line it looked like we were confident at the line. Defensively for the most part we did some good things...I'm just proud of our group."
For the Tigers both Tolbert and Dollard finished in double figures with 12 and 10 points respectively while Reed, Robertson and Barrett added eight each. Auburn outrebounded Alabama 32-30 on the day and committed just 12 turnovers with 14 assists. Hendrix led five Alabama players in double figures with 17 points and also chipped in with 13 rebounds. Davidson finished with 13 points and was held to just two in the second half.