It was the Ironball.
It was a fierce rivalry game. It was a night that saw Anthony Grant t'd up early. It was a night that saw KT Harrell reach 1000 points in his Auburn career, two monster alley-oops, and a lights-out game from Antoine Mason.
Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough. Alabama came into Auburn Arena and, like most of Auburn's visiting SEC opponents this season, found a way to make shot after shot after shot in the second half behind a stellar Levi Randolph performance to win 79-68. Anthony Grant rallied his team to weather the storm of the 1st half and sweep Auburn in Bruce Pearl's first season as head coach.
The Crimson Tide (16-10, 6-7 SEC) managed to outlast one of Antoine Mason's greatest games for the Tigers (12-14, 4-9 SEC). Mason scored 24 points tonight, and combined with KT's 21, the two players outscored their entire team by 22. K.C. Ross-Miller had zero points on the evening, but found ways to contribute to the offense. Cinmeon Bowers struggled all night long with wild passes, bad shot selection, and just plain shaky nerves. Whatever it was that affected his play, it couldn't have happened in a bigger game, which is what made watching him so frustrating for Auburn fans. The Tigers definitely lost without a consistent performance from Bowers.
For the Tide, Levi Randolph found his rhythm in the second half to finish with 19 points, and Retin Obasohan finished with 16. Every player on Bama's roster got on the score sheet tonight, while K.C. Ross-Miller, Malcolm Canada, and Trayvon Reed couldn't find the net.
Will the win be enough for Anthony Grant to keep his job? With the SEC Tournament yet to be played, only time will tell. Auburn will certainly cross its collective fingers for the slim chance of facing the Tide again in the tournament, though it's unlikely.
The takes will be fired all night long, but we'll try our best to assess what happened. Here's what we learned:
1. The shooting voodoo inside Auburn Arena still exists.
We've never seen anything quite like it, but Auburn's opponents continue to shoot lights-out when they visit Auburn Arena. Alabama only had five 3's in the first half, but in the second half, it was as if they couldn't miss from just about anywhere on the court.
As a team, Alabama shot 52.9% from the field and 42.9% from behind the arc. It seems that Auburn has struggled lately with defense in transition, but even when the Tigers manage to contest an outside shot, their opponents find just enough juice to sink the big ones. In addition to shooting, Alabama out-rebounded Auburn defensively, which also killed Auburn's chances to put back missed shots—and there were a lot of them.
2. We're missing Tahj Shamsid-Deen's added depth to this squad.
It was the KT Harrell and Antoine Mason show, but Auburn simply cannot depend on two players to show up like these two did without any outside support from the bench. Malcolm Canada has gone cold for Auburn in the last couple of games, and while Jordon Granger has shown flashes of brilliance, he still hasn't given his teammates much to build upon in the heat of the game. The rest of Auburn's bench just hasn't done enough to write home about.
Harrell and Mason and anyone else on the Tigers' roster can score all night, but it's defense that's killed us in Auburn Arena. Canada might've worn his number, but there's only one Tahj Shamsid-Deen, and his scrap and spark on both ends of the court have been sorely missed in SEC play since he had season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this month. If Auburn stands any reasonable chance at impressing in the SEC tournament—better yet, the rest of SEC regular-season play—it's going to have to find an answer on defense. Alabama was able to shoot comfortably from all over the court all night long.
The season isn't over, but it also depends on Auburn doing some serious soul-searching in preparation for its final stretch of SEC games, and this means a much more aggressive defense.
3. Despite the sloppy play, Auburn produced two monster alley-oops.
The student section was rocking, even if (according to Twitter chatter) season-ticket holding fans in attendance were not. Auburn found ways to spark the fire during the game, but these two dunks were the cream of the crop:
But again, without consistent defense, and without Cinmeon to provide a stronger presence under the rim all game, these flashes of brilliance won't win games. Still, they are spectacular to watch, even if Kevin Scarbinsky doesn't think so:
Bowers: 2-10 FG. Less flexing, more passing, perhaps?— Kevin Scarbinsky (@KevinScarbinsky) February 18, 2015
Oh, and P.S. THIS GUY:
This man is my new hero. pic.twitter.com/EY9O0SiT3f— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) February 18, 2015
Via Twitter, I've learned that he works at the Campus Barber Shop downtown. I bet he'd give you a discount on a haircut if you mention his 15 seconds of fame from tonight.
LET'S GO TO THE BIG BOARD. THE TWITTER BIG BOARD, THAT IS.
AUBURN VS. ALABAMA TWEETS:
It started early...even before tip-off:
Well Lee Cassell is officiating this game and I already have diabetes.— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) February 18, 2015
We're gonna need Trayvon out there on defense soon...or just to stand there in the paint. That bucket came too easily.— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) February 18, 2015
The Jungle seemed to struggle to be loud at times:
To our point about Tahj:
This team really misses the defensive intensity and ball control Shamsid-Deen brought to the table.— BoddaGettaBasketball (@BoddaGettaBball) February 18, 2015
The first half got a little sloppy for the Tigers:
Right now we haven't gotten into a groove. Playing down to their level— AUHoopsBlog (@AUHoopsBlog) February 18, 2015
Cinmeon Bowers and other struggled with wild, out of control passes:
If you throw it 5 feet over my head where I'm sitting, that's one bad pass...— Phillip Crain (@PhillipCWDE) February 18, 2015
The shooting voodoo continued, but so did defensive complacency:
C'mon, Auburn, at least get a hand in the shooter's face.— Lonely Tailgater (@LonelyTailgater) February 18, 2015
Consistency just keeps eluding us:
Man we just can't get in a groove tonight and get some stops and go on a run.— AUHoopsBlog (@AUHoopsBlog) February 18, 2015
In the end, it wasn't pretty, but take heart, Auburn fans, fambleh, and Barners. The season is still not over. And don't count out Bruce Pearl after one season (which, by the way, isn't over...did we mention that?). No doubt that there's plenty of room for improvement for Pearl's current squad and the upcoming class of superstars he's bringing to the Plains.
Auburn goes on the road to face Kentucky this Saturday. Unless Auburn is able to manufacture a miracle of miracles in Lexington, it's safe to say Kentucky will quickly alleviate* any soreness from tonight's loss at Auburn Arena.
*I apologize. Auburn will win. I don't know why I doubted. War Damn Eagle, always.