Forty minutes was not enough for the Iron Bowl of basketball. After a back-and-forth second half, in many ways mirroring the teams’ previous meeting a month ago, No. 2 Alabama was too much for Auburn.
Four different Crimson Tide players made four straight shots in an overtime period after three of the Tigers’ top hitters were fouled. Ahead by two with about a minute left, Jaden Bradley and Mark Sears grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds, eventually getting Bradley to the line to cool off. At the final buzzer, a season of historic success reached another milestone in exciting fashion.
After reaching its highest ranking ever in the Associated Press poll. After pacing the conference with 11 wins by at least double digits the team record set in 1956, per UA Athletics. Coming off a 15-0 undefeated home season, the first since the Tide went 19-0 in 2010-11, Alabama was able to add another honor to this year’s team: outright Southeastern Conference regular-season champions.
In front of a raucous Coleman Coliseum, the No. 2 Tide (26-4, 16-1) took the lead late for a 90-85 victory. Three different players scored 17 points as Sears and Noah Clowney scored key baskets and Brandon Miller (17 points on three field goals and 10 free throws) couldn’t find a rhythm.
Meanwhile, Auburn (19-11, 9-8) set new season highs in 3-pointers (12) and overall percentage (12-for-20). It also turned back the tide for most of the contest. Still, with three of the Tigers’ top scorers finishing the game — Allen Flanigan (17 points), Jaylin Williams (15) and Johni Broone (10) each fouling out — there was a dearth of scoring and interior defensive options in crunch time. Bruce Pearl’s team added a competitive showing to its March Madness resume, but not the Quadrant 1 win it entered this week looking for.
Led by KD Johnson’s 21 points, including four 3-pointers on five attempts, Auburn’s one-on-one shooting was exceptional. Using off-ball screens and dribble handoffs, the Tigers created space near the paint and took advantage of turnaround jump shots. It worked in the opening frame and for most of the second half, whenever the crowd reached a crescendo, Johnson, Williams or Flanigan would respond.
Heading into halftime with a seven-point lead, a pocket of blue- and orange-clad fans started a “Let’s Go Auburn” chant as Alabama entered the tunnel.
Starting about halfway through the second half, Alabama began to battle back from a 17-point deficit. Broome’s absence only underscored Auburn’s deficiencies on the interior. Dylan Cardwell, the backup center, limped off the field late with an apparent right lower leg injury and never returned. Alabama converted 18 of its 27 layup attempts while Auburn went seven of 21 from close range. At one point, Auburn had a stretch of nearly six minutes without a field goal and five turnovers.
As it did against Arkansas and on the Plains on Feb. 11, Alabama started making its shots, sparking a 14-0 run. Sears and Clowney came out of the break hitting two 3s. Screens at the top of the key began to open near the edge. Even Miller, whose presence was felt most in the extra period, worked his way into the lane and drew attention from others.
A double technical foul led to a multi-minute stoppage in the second half. After the officials reviewed a scrum on the field in which players from both teams had to be separated, Broome was fouled for Auburn and Alabama’s Charles Bediako and Rylan Griffin were ejected.
Alabama attacked the paint afterward while Auburn fell off from 3-point range. The Tigers made nine of their first 11, but then missed six of their last nine.
The evening ended with a ladder set up under a basket and party music blasting through the rafters.
Oats’ second title in his four-year tenure sets the Tide up as the one-seed in next week’s conference tournament in Nashville. With the double-bye, Alabama is in the driver’s seat for a one-seed NCAA tournament, which could potentially see them play their first two games in Birmingham.
This post will be updated.
Nick Alvarez is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @nick_a_alvarez or send him an email at NAlvarez@al.com.