So maybe it wasn’t beautiful, but in the words of Alabama Coach Anthony Grant, “It’s always good to get a win.”
Alabama made 24-32 free throws, including 19-25 in the second half, to defeat Auburn, 55-49, in Coleman Coliseum Wednesday night.
Alabama improved to 20-9 overall and 9-6 in Southeastern Conference play. Auburn fell to 14-15 overall and 4-11 in the conference. It was Bama’s fifth straight victory over Auburn, including a 68-50 Tide victory in Auburn earlier this season.
Alabama can earn the fourth seed in the SEC Tournament when the Crimson Tide ends regular season play at Ole Miss Saturday. Tipoff is at 3 p.m. CST with television coverage by the SEC Network. Bama defeated Ole Miss in double overtime in Tuscaloosa earlier this year, 69-67.
Grant called it a “grind” to get the win over an Auburn team that Bama’s coach said played very good defense. The Tigers were also setting the pace – a deliberate pace – that the Bama coach said “favored what they wanted.”
A second half substitution of back-up point guard Ben Eblen “may have been the difference in the game,” Grant said. Eblen, who played both for and with regular point guard Trevor Releford was able to speed the game up.
Eblen is not known as a shooter. In fact, he rarely shoots. But he had an important drive and pass to JaMychal Green. Green was fouled and made two of the many important free throws down the stretch.
“We needed every one of those free throws,” Grant said.
One of them came from Eblen, his first of the year. He was 1-2 from the foul line and now he is 1-3 on the season. The junior has taken only 17 shots (making four) from the field in the 26 games he has played this year.
Green, the Tide’s lone senior playing his last game in Coleman Coliseum, went out with a bang, scoring 15 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Trevor Lacey came off the bench after having missed most of the previous two games with ankle problems and scored 10 points.
Auburn Coach Tony Barbee said he thought the turning point in the game came when Frankie Sullivan missed a three-point shot (he was 1-8 on treys) and Alabama came down and Lacey hit a deep three to give Bama a 42-39 lead with eight and a half minutes to play.
There were a lot of other important shots, including Green’s tip-in of a Lacey miss with 34 seconds to play that made it Alabama 51, Auburn 47.
Alabama had a horrible shooting night, making only 14-45 from the field, 31.1 per cent, the worst performance of the year. The Tide was good on only 3-11 three-point shots (27.3 per cent). One reason for Alabama’s poor field goal shooting was that Auburn’s zone defense clogged up the middle. The Tigers blocked seven shots, but only one in the second half.
“I knew we were struggling from the field,” Grant said. He said late in the first half, when Alabama went on a 13-0 run to take a nine-point lead, then squandered it down to only a 23-21 halftime advantage, that the offense affected the defense.
“We’d like to be better offensively,” Grant said, “but we want to be consistent on defense.”
Alabama held Auburn to 20-48 field goal shooting (41.7 per cent) and 4-21 on treys (19 per cent. Auburn took only 12 foul shots and made only five of them.
Bama won the rebounding battle, 39-31, including giving up only three offensive boards to the Tigers. But Auburn was a rare winner over Alabama in the points in the paint statistic, 24-18. It was only the fourth time this year an opponent has outscored the Tide on those close shots. Alabama did have more points off turnovers, 10-5, and second chance points, 14-5.
Kenny Gabriel led Auburn with 10 points (but on 4-13 shooting, including 0-5 on treys) and 11 rebounds. One of the two suspended Tigers, Chris Denson, returned to the lineup and had nine points for Auburn, but he was only 1-6 on free throws. Auburn guard Varez Ward continued to be suspended.
TIDE NOTES: The win was Alabama’s fifth straight over Auburn to improve UA to 89-56 all-time against the Tigers and 37-7 in Coleman Coliseum..
Alabama recorded its 26th 20-win season in the program’s history and its second straight.
JaMychal Green recorded his 25th career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. He now has 1,599 career points and passed Robert Horry for 12th all-time in scoring at UA. His 10 rebounds give him 876 in his career, the most among active SEC players.
Auburn averaged 0.79 points per possession, the lowest average by an SEC opponent for Alabama this season.
Auburn became the 16th opponent in Grant’s three seasons to score less than 50 points against the Tide. UA is undefeated in those games.
Trevor Releford recorded his 61st steal of the season, the fifth most in a season by a UA player.
The Crimson Tide used its 13th different starting lineup of the season as senior JaMychal Green started his 110th career game with Trevor Releford, Andrew Steele, Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper.
That start tied Green with Mike Davis for ninth all-time in games started at Alabama.
Alabama used a 13-0 to take a first-half lead, its 13th run of 10-0 or bigger this season and its biggest run of the season. Alabama held Auburn scoreless for 8:15 during that run.
Auburn’s 21 first-half points are the second fewest in the first half by an SEC opponent this season. LSU scored 19 in the first half of the first meeting between the two teams this season.
Auburn is the 19th opponent this season that UA has held to less than 30 first half points.
Alabama led at halftime for the 18th time this season. UA is 17-1 in those games.
At halftime, Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide football team accepted the James E. Foy ODK Sportsmanship Trophy in honor of the Crimson Tide’s 42-14 trouncing of Auburn in Auburn in the 2011 season.