The home-standing Crimson Tide, which is normally the team that can't shoot straight, came out smoking from the field. Meanwhile, the visiting Auburn Tigers, the best shooting team in the SEC, looked like the guys that had struggled throughout the year to shoot the basketball.
The result was an 84-68 Alabama victory that dropped the Tigers into a first place tie in the SEC West with Mississippi State, which survived an overtime test from visiting Ole Miss earlier in the evening.
Marquis Daniels scores in the lane.
The Tigers hit a dreadful 8-28 field goals in the first half to dig themselves into a major hole. At halftime, the Tide led 41-23. It got worse before it got better for the Tigers. With 10:54 to play the Tigers fell behind by 26 points at 59-33 on a three-point basket by Maurice Williams, who scored 17 for the home team.
Although Auburn was way down, the Tigers weren't quite out yet. With Troy Gaines coming off the bench to hit three three-pointers to jump-start the Auburn offense, the Tigers cut the lead to 11 points at 70-59 with 3:58 to play and had the ball with a chance to get the lead back into single figures. However, that was as close as they could get and the Tide held on for the victory.
Auburn coach Cliff Ellis and senior forward Marquis Daniels, who led the Tigers with 23 points, both agreed on the reason why Auburn couldn't sweep the regular season series. "You have got to give the credit to Alabama," Ellis said. "The bottom line is that they shot the ball much better than we did.
"We couldn't buy a basket, especially early," Ellis added. "That was really our downfall. Our effort was there. The turnovers were even (13-13). The boards were very close (40-33 Alabama). We went to the foul line and hit shots (14-16). We had wide open looks and we didn't bury them. That gave Alabama a chance to build a cushion and they hit the shots.
"We tried to come back and I thought we did a great job with our effort, but the bottom line is that Alabama shot the ball much better than we did," Ellis noted.
Daniels said that he thought Auburn should have done a better job on the boards, but agreed with the bottom line about the shooting woes. "We had good looks and just weren't making our shots and they came down and were making their shots," he said.
Auburn hit just 34.9 percent for the game and was dreadful in the first 20 minutes, making just 28.6 percent while the Tide made 58.6 percent in the first half and 52.7 percent for the game.
Ellis said the game was much like the first one with the Tide last month in Auburn, except for the roles were reversed with the shooting. "They came out shooting well like we did in Auburn," he said.
Daniels said that the best thing he saw was that the Tigers fought back from a big second half deficit with good defensive intensity. Auburn cut 15 points off the biggest Tide lead despite still struggling from the field in the second half by making just 14-35 shots, which is 40 percent, almost 10 percentage points below the Tigers' season average.
"I thought Troy Gaines was a spark," Ellis said. "He did the thing that we needed. He hit three threes." However, even Gaines didn't shoot well looking at the big picture. He made just 3-11 shots, but at least that was better than the man he replaced in the lineup, Nathan Watson, who was 0-6 from the field.
Kyle Davis hits a free throw vs. the Tide as Nathan Watson watches.
Auburn slipped to 6-4 in the league and 17-6 overall. Alabama improved to 4-6 in the SEC and 14-7 overall.
"This was a feel good win," said Tide coach Mark Gottfried, who made a change in the starting lineup to spark his team that had lost its last two games. One of the additions, freshman forward Kennedy Winston, responded with 15 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes.
The other new starter, Antoine Pettway, didn't put up big numbers, but did a solid job of handling the basketball in a point guard role. That enabled Williams to play more of a two-guard role and he responded by making 5-11 field goals to finish second in scoring on the team to senior forward Erwin Dudley, who contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"They added more dribble penetration," Williams noted of Williams and Pettway. "I think they added a spark."
Gottfried said he hoped the victory could jump start the Tide for a strong finish to conference play. "I am proud of how we played. Not only did we win, I liked how we played."
Auburn returns to action at home on Wednesday night with a key SEC matchup vs. the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Ellis downplayed the importance of any one game. "They are all big," the coach said. "It is a 16-game race. You just take them one at a time."
Daniels would say that it is a big game coming up on Wednesday. "We have got to take care of our home court," the senior said.
Auburn sophomore forward Brandon Robinson suffered an ankle sprain in the game and played just 12 minutes. He didn't take a shot from the field and finished with just two points.