Feb. 27, 2014
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. -- Hasina Muhammad, almost falling out of bounds, hit the jumper that gave Auburn's women's the lead for good with 33 seconds left as they fought back from a 17-point deficit and beat Alabama 70-65 in double overtime Thursday night at Auburn Arena. Freshman Brandy Montgomery brashly hit a 3-pointer and hit four crucial free throws in the final seconds.
But when the Tigers trailed 39-22 after an Ashley Williams layup with 15:59 left, it was senior Tyrese Tanner who was not going to have it. Not against this team. Not in her last regular-season home game in an Auburn uniform.
Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said she knew when Tanner took control that her team had a chance to come back.
"She was incredible," Williams-Flournoy said. "She becomes focused. She is trying to get everyone around her together as well as herself together. She is just a phenomenal player."
Tanner made jump shots. She went hard to the basket. She blocked Alabama shots. She got assists. And the Tigers came marching back. They tied it at 51-51 at the end of regulation, wiped out a 4-point Alabama lead to force a second overtime and finally won it with Tanner on the bench with five fouls.
Tanner finished with 26 points, 19 in the second half. She had 11 rebounds, nine in the second half, and blocked four shots.
"We went into halftime and regrouped and it all came together," Tanner said. "I think we did a great job. We stayed with them and came out with a win."
The victory gave the Tigers (16-12, 7-8), 61-39 winners in Tuscaloosa, a sweep of their season series with Alabama (13-15, 6-9) and kept alive their NCAA Tournament hopes. Auburn broke out of a three-way tie for eighth in the SEC standings, moving into a four-way tie for sixth with Vanderbilt, LSU and Florida.
Muhammad said Tanner made it clear from the start of the second half that she was taking over the game.
"I'm glad she did," Muhammad said. "I just see extreme leadership. When she does it, it she pulls everyone else along. It makes everyone else want to work harder to match her intensity. It just makes the game fun>"
When Tanner fouled out with 2:10 left, she told her teammates to keep fighting, that they would still win the game. And Muhammad, who scored just six points, made the shot that mattered most, giving Auburn a 66-65 lead with 33 seconds left in the second overtime.
"I knew the play," said Muhammad, who has fought back problems all season. "It was for me. I don't know, my adrenaline was pumping and I wanted to win so bad. I just went for it and did what I do best, mid-range jumpers."
After a miserable first half, Auburn trailed 31-18. They were outrebounded 23-16 and hit just 8-of-28 shots for 28.6 percent. Things quickly got worse for the Tigers as the second half unfolded, but then Tanner took over and things got better. A lot better.
Montgomery, playing beyond her years, hit a 3-pointer with 3:14 left in the second overtime to tie the game at 62. She hit four free throws in the final 15 seconds to ice it. She hit a 3-pointer with in regulation to pull the Tigers to within 47-45.
"I'm really proud of the way she has matured," Muhammad said. "She wasn't fidgety like she used to be. She's really calmed down and plays the game. She looked really good. I was really proud of her."
As the Tigers left the court at halftime, Williams-Flournoy was not so happy. She hadn't liked anything she had seen. Alabama was dominating every facet of the game. In the locker room, she delivered what Tanner called "a good talking to."
"You know how when you get in trouble and you have to go home and hear what your mom has to say?" Williams-Flournoy said. "That's the conversation they got. I was more frustrated and mad at them because they weren't playing hard. They had no idea of the opportunity that was right in front of them.
"In the first game, we beat Alabama so bad. It's hard to get that out of their minds."
But when it was over, Williams-Flournoy was proud of a team that didn't give in when all seemed lost.
"As mad as I want to be at them for getting down, I can give them nothing but credit for fighting hard to get back in and win the game," Williams-Flournoy said. "Seventeen points is incredible. It's crazy."
Montgomery finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. Tra'Cee Tanner, who also fouled out in the second overtime, had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Auburn will close the regular-season Sunday at last-place Ole Miss. The Southeastern Conference Tournament begins Wednesday in Duluth, Ga.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: Follow @PMarshOnAU