Tigers Show "Grit" in Comeback to Sweep Tide

Comments from Jeff Lebo and Auburn players are featured following their 77-73 road victory vs. Alabama.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.-Junior point guard DeWayne Reed challenged his senior teammates to step up in the second half with Auburn struggling vs. archrival Alabama on Tuesday night.

The seniors and everybody else on the team responded to the challenge as the Tigers rallied for a 77-73 victory to clinch second place in the SEC West as well as reach the 20 wins mark for the first time in Jeff Lebo's career at Auburn and the ninth time in AU history.

With the victory, the Tigers earned a first round bye in the SEC Tournament.

Senior Rasheem Barrett led the Tigers in scoring with 15 points and added six rebounds. He was a key offensively in Auburn's second half surge.

Senior Korvotney Barber had another huge rebounding game, pulling in 17 to lead all players in that department. Barber made it a double-double with 13 points including a key tip-in with the game on the line.

Senior Quantez Robertson, who had been surprisingly off target at the foul line much of the year, hit nothing but net with 1:20 left when he made a pair of free throws in a one-on-one situation to put the Tigers on top 73-70.

"We just defended better," Barber said when asked how his team overcame a 10-point halftime deficit. "We just rebounded the ball pretty well tonight and they knocked down shots--Tay Waller, Frankie Sullivan and Lucas Hargrove knocked down some big shots."

Barrett agreed with Barber and added, "We just told each other we have got to grind. We have been here before. It is time to mature and man up and do what you have got to do to win."

Barrett added that he wanted the ball in his hands in crunch time. "Reed came to the seniors and said, 'Hey, seniors, it's your last time. What are you going to do?' I put it in my hand, let's go. If they put the ball in my hands I was going to try to make something happen."

Reed scored 13 and Waller added 11 for the Tigers, who placed five players in double figures in scoring.

"I just liked our toughness," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "We have played pretty good on the road all year long. We have shown some toughness, we have shown some grit. We have got seniors and I am just awfully proud in this environment against an Alabama team that is playing awfully well."

Lebo said he liked how his Tigers rallied in the second half and then hung tough after the Tide cut Auburn's 69-61 lead with 5:07 left to 71-70 on a basket by Alonzo Gee with 1:23 left.

The Tide then tied the game at 73-73 on a three-pointer from the wing by Andrew Steele with 1:10 left, but Auburn took the lead for good with 59 seconds left on Barber's tip-in.

After a missed shot by Senario Hillman, Barrett grabbed the rebound. Alabama chose not to foul and Auburn iced the game just before the shot clock expired as freshman Frankie Sullivan's leaner with 11.1 seconds left ended the scoring with Auburn on top 77-73.

Lebo evened his Auburn record vs. the Tide at 5-5 and had his second series sweep vs. Bama in the past three years.

"Alabama has been playing awfully well," Lebo said. "The way we did it is we showed some grit, we showed some toughness, we made some plays--a lot of plays down the stretch. There are a lot I can point to, but I think it is just a great win for our kids. I have never seen them so happy after a game since I have been here.

"First half, we were terrible," Lebo said. "We took bad shots, we fouled way too much. It was 20-3 on foul shots. Luckily, they didn't shoot the ball too well from the foul line tonight.

"I am really proud of our seniors," Lebo added. "I thought Rasheem Barrett, Quantez and Korvotney were terrific. Tez made some key free throws coming down the stretch, Vot with the big tip and Rasheem defensively on Gee coming down was good. We just gutted one out here in the end."

Tay Waller scrambles for a loose ball vs. Alabama's Senario Hillman.

Auburn's record improved to 9-6 in the league and 20-10 overall. Alabama fell to 16-13 and 6-9 in the SEC as the Tigers snapped the Tide's three-game winning streak.

Right now we are just worried about winning against LSU," Barber said when asked if he believes his Tigers are worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid. "We can't really say right now. We are just focusing on the games we have now. Hopefully, we can win a couple games in the SEC Tournament then hopefully we will make it to the NCAA."

Auburn shot 30.2 percent in the first half, but heated up and hit 64.3 percent in the second 20 minutes to finish at 43.7 percent for the game to 43.3 percent for the Tide. The Tigers outscored the Tide 48-34 in the second half.

Even Francis Aihe, who had only played only two minutes in conference games this year, helped the Tigers with solid defense and a rebound in four minutes of action in the first half with Auburn's big men in foul trouble and Johnnie Lett unavailable due to his ankle injury.

Auburn hit 7-22 threes and 8-12 free throws. The Tide hit 6-19 threes and 15-29 free throws. Each team had 11 turnovers and Auburn out-rebounded the taller Tide 44-40.

Tide coach Philip Pearson said, "They are a very difficult team to prepare for. They do a lot of things differently both offensively and defensively."

Pearson said the Tide didn't take advantage of its free throw opportunities in the first half. "Had we made a few more foul shots, the game could have been 14, 15 or 16 instead of 10," he said. "When you look at the second half, we didn't guard well enough. At critical times I thought we gave them two or three opportunities."

Auburn got a lot of shots off in the first half, but to Lebo's displeasure many of them weren't high percentage ones and it showed in the halftime statistics.

The Tigers trailed 39-29 at intermission. The first 10 minutes of the half was close with the lead changing hands. With the score 20-20 the Tide went on a 14-2 run as the Tigers played nearly four minutes without a score until Frankie Sullivan scored with 4:41 on the clock left hitting a layup with a foul shot for an old-fashioned three-point play.

However, the Tigers were consistently inconsistent on offense the entire opening half. Hargrove said the defense wasn't getting the job done either in the first half.

"I feel like we played better as a team in the second half," Hargrove said. "In the first half they were beating us a lot on defense. In the second half we brought it together, manned up, played better defense and rebounded better."

Gee led the Tide with 17 points while JaMychal Green scored 16 points and added eight rebounds.

The Tigers wrap up the regular season with a 3 p.m. home game on Saturday vs. LSU. Auburn's only loss in its last seven games was a 79-72 setback to LSU in Baton Rouge on Feb. 21st.

After the Tuesday night game that was nationally televised on ESPN, Lebo said his Tigers can use an extra day of rest to prepare for the SEC's hottest team.

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