Tigers Seek Revenge on Tide
Auburn will have to play Alabama without one of its best defenders as forward Anfernee McLemore (24) is out for the season. (photo: Denon McMillan/247 Sports)
No one in the country was as hot as the Auburn basketball team when it played Alabama a few weeks ago in Tuscaloosa. With multiple starters absent from the Alabama lineup, this game had the look of a potential blowout in Tuscaloosa. However, Auburn played its worst game of the season to that date against the Tide.
Yet, fast forward a few weeks, and Auburn is still on top of the SEC. The Tigers hold a two-game lead over Tennessee with just four games left in the regular season. Auburn will lock up at least part ownership of the SEC regular season championship with a win tonight against the Tide and could outright own it with a Tennessee loss and an Auburn win.
Like the last match, the home team is missing some critical players. Auburn’s swat master, Anfernee McLemore, is out for the season. Looking to step up will be Horace Spencer. Spencer averages a block per game but only half of the production that McLemore demonstrated all season. Furthermore, Spencer isn’t just a downgrade at scoring. He doesn’t really score at all. With a limited skill set, expecting Spencer to go toe-to-toe with Alabama’s big men is a stretch.
However, Chuma Okeke could be the player that could step up. Okeke has the ability to block shots and score on the inside. He also has a pretty good outside game. Stretching the floor against the long and lengthy Alabama squad is crucial.
Auburn can’t afford another dreadful start. The Tigers were able to overcome a slow start against Kentucky but could not rally from 26 points down at South Carolina, who upset the Tigers on Saturday. Luckily, upsets were common across the SEC aside from Kentucky getting on a win streak by knocking off Arkansas.
Tonight is a pivotal game for Auburn. No matter what happens, the Tigers are going to play in the NCAA tournament, and they are going to do it without McLemore. This team has never been one to offer excuses after those rare losses, so don’t expect that now. The Tigers will try and adjust.
On the other hand, Alabama has a lot more to gain than Auburn. Bama is already known as the giant killers, having set a program record for knocking off ranked teams this year. Of course, they can’t win the easy games. But this won’t be an easy game. A win for the Tide would boost its résumé and help lift them several seeds.
It would be easy to point to Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, the best guard tandem in the league, as the linchpins to a win this evening in Auburn Arena. When the threes are falling, Auburn is a great team. When they don’t, Auburn can look mighty mediocre, and even lost, as it did in the first half of the game Saturday in Columbia. Still, work ethic isn’t a problem, and the Tigers find ways to hang around.
Tonight, the game is on Okeke. Can the freshman step up to the challenge? Tune in to the SEC Network at 7:30 to watch the game.