Auburn's T.J. Dunans rushes past Justin Coleman
By Charles Goldberg
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Coach Bruce Pearl found a bright spot or two in freshmen Horace Spencer and Bryce Brown on Saturday, but not even their play could flip a box score that turned against Auburn late in the second half in Coleman Coliseum.
Alabama beat Auburn 65-57 in a game of wild swings that saw the Tide lead by 10 in the first half, the Tigers lead by 10 in the second half and fans on both sides groaning because of missed free throws.
"Too many turnovers, too many missed free throws. We didn't make enough plays down the stretch, and Alabama did," Pearl said.
Auburn was trying to sweep Alabama in the regular season for the first time since 2009. Auburn led with nine minutes to play, then scored only nine more points. Auburn beat Alabama 83-77 in Auburn Arena on Jan. 19. Saturday, there were lead swings and stop-and-go action. A total of 56 free throws were shot, and a total of 27 were missed.
But Pearl said some youth was served in the play of the steadily-improving Spencer, who had a career-best 10 points; and Brown, who hit four 3-pointers and scored a team-best 14 points.
"Horace played great," Pearl said. "They only gave him one block. I thought he had a couple of more blocks out there. He's good. Bryce is pretty good, too. Those two good young freshmen both played well, but we didn't get it done."
Both teams squandered chances in the second half. Alabama had to rally to finish hitting 11-of-22 free throws in the second half. Auburn hit 4-of-12 free throws in the second half.
"I don't know if you'd call that a good game. I don't know how well both teams played. But it certainly was a competitive game," Pearl said.
Auburn's always-changing lineup changed again with the return of Tyler Harris, who had missed the previous game because of a concussion he suffered against Ole Miss. He didn't want to miss the game he missed, and made sure he played against Alabama. He played 27 minutes and scored 7 points.
"A lesser mentally-tough person, a lesser physically-tough competitor probably would have gone through the concussion protocols and been out even longer. He took a pretty serious hit against Ole Miss," Pearl said.
But Harris and Auburn played on, rallying from a 10-point first-half deficit to tie the game on the first basket of the second half for a 31-31 tie. A Brown 3-pointer gave the Tigers their first lead at 36-33 with 17:59 left. The Tigers outscored Alabama 11-2 in the first three-plus minutes of the second half to flip the momentum and gain a 10-point cushion.
Auburn hit its first eight shots of the second half on the way to a 46-37 lead with 13:30 left. But then the Tigers went seven minutes without scoring a field goal as Alabama came back for a 48-48 tie with 6:20 left. The Tide took a 50-49 lead with 5:35 remaining and held on.
"The longer we got away from halftime, the worse it got," Pearl said.
Cinmeon Bowers added 12 points for Auburn. Retin Obasohan led Alabama with 16.
Alabama improved to 17-11 overall and 8-8 in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn fell to 11-17 overall and 5-11 in the league with two regular-season games remaining: At home against Texas A&M on Tuesday and at Mississippi State next Saturday.
Auburn was cold to start the game Saturday, scoring just one field goal in the first eight minutes and eventually falling behind by 10 points. But the Tigers hung in there, rode the outside shooting of Brown and the inside work of Spencer, and found themselves down only 31-29 at halftime.
Brown and Spencer made that so. Auburn hit eight of its final 17 shots of the half, with Spencer leading the way with 8 points and Brown adding two 3-pointers.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: