"They switched to the zone, we had some turnovers and we had some fast-break turnovers," Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo said of the 17-0 stretch. "If we take it and sling it into the stands that's one thing, because we can set our defense. I seemed like every time we had one it resulted in a layup or a three-point shot."
Alabama didn't have a mid-week game, and coach Mark Gottfried said it was a new look that caused the Tigers problems during the run. "We had some time this week and we were able to put some new things in," he noted. "I thought our guys did a great job of executing. they got their hands in the passing lanes a little bit better and we extended our defensive a little more.
"We deserve a smile right now," Gottfried added. "We have had a tough couple of games and we needed a change."
A glaring difference throughout the ball game was in the decision-making between the two teams. Led by five assists to just one turnover from Brandon Hollinger, Alabama had 19 assists to just four turnovers. Auburn turned it over 15 times and had 15 assists.
"They shot the ball extremely well from three, and our turnovers certainly helped them," Lebo stated. "Points of turnovers and live-ball turnovers... I think at one point in the game they were ahead 24-0 on points off turnovers."
Alabama came into the game hitting 22-88 three-pointers during its four-game SEC skid. The Crimson Tide hit 12-25 against Auburn. The Tigers hit just 6-22.
"This was as good as they've played in a while," Lebo said. "Certainly it cures a lot of problems when you shoot the ball as well as they shot it today. You look at their game films from before and they had missed a lot of shots. They made them today."
The matchup on center Richard Hendrix and guard/forward Alonzo Gee is a difficult one for most teams. Those two came through with 20 and 17 points, respectively, but the fly in the ointment was Hollinger, who got a rare start.
"We just came back motivated more to get a win," Hollinger explained. "Coach switched the teams up. He had different guys on different teams and everybody was competing in practice. It showed in the game."
He finished with 18 points on 6-9 shooting from long range.
Alabama's biggest lead of the game was 30 points midway through the second half, but it was a close game early on. There were 11 lead changes in first 10 minutes as Prowell had the hot hand for the Tigers. He had eight of the Tigers' first 13 points, but picked up his second foul of the game with 12:20 remaining in the first half as Auburn held an 18-17 advantage. Matt Heramb was forced to play inside against Hendrix, but the seldom-used sophomore had a put-back to tie the game at 22-22 before the wheels fell off for Auburn.
The Tigers took only four shots from the field in the next seven minutes. Alabama went zone, and the Crimson Tide's length gave Auburn problems offensively as tipped passes lead to easy buckets and the 17-0 Alabama run.
Not only did Auburn struggle to get shots off for a long stretch, Hollinger got hot from long range for Alabama with three threes. Quantez Robertson, who had 10 points, eight rebounds and an uncharacteristic four turnovers, finally hit a pair of free throws with 3:36 remaining in the first half to end the drought.
Rasheem Barrett shoots for the Tigers.
Barrett scored two-point buckets on three consecutive possessions for Auburn, then hit a pair of free throws, but the Tigers couldn't make up much ground as Hendrix and Gee continued to score on the other end. Robertson hit a three from the wing as time expired to cut it to 48-35 and seemingly give Auburn momentum going into halftime with points on six consecutive possessions.
However, the story of the second half was told in the first minute of action. Auburn got the ball first and had an open three-point opportunity, but Frank Tolbert missed with a chance to cut it to 10. Alabama got the rebound, and Mykal Riley hit a three from the corner to extend the Tide advantage to 16. The Tigers were never able to get it to within 13 points.
The first 10-plus minutes of the second half were an all-around whipping . The Crimson Tide got better looks at the basket, shot the ball better and even beat the Tigers up and down the court at times. The lead grew to 30 before the Tigers made a quick 10-0 run by attacking the rim with Hendrix getting some rest.
Led by Tolbert and Prowell, Auburn outscored Alabama 20-5 to pull within 15 in the final minute. A three by Senario Hillman from the corner was the final puncuation as the Crimson Tide notched its first SEC win of the 2007-2008 season. Hillman also had a highlight-reel dunk over Lucas Hargrove in the second half.
Alabama improved to 1-4 in the league and Auburn dropped to 2-3. The Tigers' next game is at home against LSU on Jan. 30. Auburn beat LSU in Batton Rouge 74-67 on Jan. 16.