Alabama Ends Auburn’s Winning Streak
Auburn guard Jared Harper (1) makes a basket against Alabama forward Galin Smith (30) on January 17, 2018. (photo: Vasha Hunt /AL.com)
It was a clunker of a game by the Auburn Tigers, no doubt about it.
Auburn traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on an Alabama team that has largely underachieved this year under Avery Johnson but was still viewed by most basketball aficionados as a bubble team for the NCAA tournament. On the other hand, the Tigers were regarded as one of the hottest teams in the nation,
With the nation’s longest winning streak and sitting atop the SEC, Auburn was in a position it hasn’t known maybe ever. If this were a blue-blood team, fans wouldn’t have been very worried about Auburn laying an egg against its rival. Winning streaks, sitting atop the standings, and avoiding letdown games against lesser opponents on the road isn’t what those teams do.
But Auburn hadn’t been there before, and youth and inexperience finally caught up to Bruce Pearl’s squad with the Tigers dropping a 76–71 game.
It just had to be against Alabama, didn’t it?
Auburn basketball fans could feel it coming, but as the two teams tipped off, the SEC Network broke news that Colin Sexton, Alabama’s best player and the SEC’s top scorer, wouldn’t be playing. For a moment, it seemed as if a loss was inevitable, it wouldn’t be in Coleman Coliseum. Even as the two teams traded turnovers in the first few minutes of the game, one thing was becoming abundantly clear: with Sexton out, Auburn hadn’t game planned for John Petty.
Petty dropped 27 points on the Tigers, including 8 of 13 from down town. It wasn’t just the volume of threes that Petty hit, but how and when. Case in point was an off-balance NBA-range three that Petty threw up. The only way it could have been any more comical was if it had been with a blindfold and a hand tied behind his back. But like almost every shot he took, it still found the bottom of the basket. Though Auburn had a slim three-point lead on a buzzer beater in the first half, the Tigers fought from eight points behind virtually the entire half. Every time Auburn cut the lead, typically to six points, Petty would drop another one and push the lead right back to eight, which seemed to be the Tides’s magic number.
Auburn never went on the game-defining run that ate up opponent’s leads or pushed the margin of victory to the 14-point average victory margin the Tigers have enjoyed.
Still, Auburn had chances in the waning moments of an ugly outing to win the game, and they weren’t with the long ball or turnovers. It was at the charity stripe where Auburn has been so good this year. Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke, and Mustapha Heron all took turns in the double bonus but were unable to convert. Harper, an 80-plus percent shooter from the line, missed both of his shots in what was basically a back-breaker moment.
Though the 63-percent free-throw number isn’t typical for Auburn, it also wasn’t the reason Auburn lost. Auburn never looked right from the beginning and didn’t get better as the game went on. Big men Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer have had some tough games the last few weeks, and while Spencer turned his game back up last night, McLemore looked more than a little off. The typically high-energy man was anything but as he scored just six points, pulled down two rebounds and couldn’t add a single block—his mainstay. Spencer did what he could, also kicking in six points and adding a pair of blocks.
The biggest head-scratcher was the play of Mustapha Heron. After scoring early on a pair of alley oops, Heron completely disappeared for the entire first half and most of the second. He resurfaced late in the game as he tried to take over the game. The problem was, it looked more like selfishness as he cut off passes meant for his point guard, Jared Harper, and drove the lane just to turn the ball over. Heron led all Tigers with four turnovers while scoring just five points, an abysmal game for him. Bryce Brown led the Tigers with 12 points and was invisible in the second half as Alabama did a fine job pushing him to the perimeter and forcing him to take really tough shots. Although he did hit 4–8, he took far too few shots in the second half.
In the end, it was a forgettable game that went back to the previous years under Pearl and even into the late Barbee era. There was no excuse for the Tigers to drop this game against Alabama, especially with Sexton out.
With Florida earning a win and Auburn dropping this game, the Tigers enjoyed a short week atop the SEC as they lost their first conference game and fell to second place behind the Gators. They get their second biggest rival, UGA, at home this Saturday at 5:00 PM on the SEC Network.