Auburn started hot with two Bowers threes and some great rebounds and tip-ins. He also was part of a split technical call for some trash talk, and that's a good microcosm of the first half officiating.
The first half was a game of runs. Auburn started the game on a 10-2 run. Alabama answered with a 22-4 run of their own. Then Auburn came back on a 23-6 run. Most of the last 4-5 minutes were back-and-forth, but Alabama ended ona bit of a run of their own, as they cut the Tiger lead to 3 right before the half at 40-37.
Fouls were plenty and often in this one, as players were getting called for every minor touch. Just like with the scoring, the fouls also seemed to go on runs. Auburn was getting called a lot early, but then after Alabama took a 10 point lead Auburn was able to bring it back thanks to eight straight free throws by Auburn.
The second half started out the way the first half ended, with short scoring runs by both teams, and lots of fouls all around. Auburn was the first to score, and building the small lead helped the Tigers as they were able to match scoring and keep out front of the Tide for the majority of the second half. So many players were in foul trouble in this one with just under 10 minutes to play.
In a night that consisted of so many fouls, shooting from the free throw line was key. Auburn, normally not a great free throw shooting team, was draining almost everything. Unfortunately they struggled a little bit late, making this game much more troubling than we wanted it to be. One of the most consistent players of the night at the charity stripe was Cinmeon Bowers. His last two games have been two of the best of his carer. Certainly the best of this season.
The other key was the three pointers. Auburn shot 37% to Alabama's 27% from beyond the arc. In other words, this game played out almost exactly as we knew it had to for Auburn to win. The Tigers had to shoot well from three, they did. Kareem Canty needed to be hot, and boy was he. Auburn had to get to the line as much or more than Alabama, they did. Then, they had to make the free throws. They did that, too, shooting 70% to Alabama's 68% from the line.
It was a hard fought game with tons of fouls going all around. Both teams fought hard in the second half, but Auburn was able to hold serve even through some ugly plays and calls in the final 40 seconds. The SEC Network crew harped on a call on a Canty at first being called for a travel and then it changed to a foul, but said nothing about Spencer being yanked to the court and a travel called. Were both bad calls? Probably. But at least acknowledge the make-up call rather than just repeatedly showing the other play.
Auburn leaves the game at .500 in SEC play, something it's been a while for the Tigers to say 6 games into the SEC schedule. They've taken down Kentucky and arch-rival Alabama in back-to-back games in front of sold out crowds at Auburn Arena. It's a worn out, beat down, injury-plagued team, but damn if they aren't playing beautiful right now.
Game 1 between Pearl and Johnson goes to Pearl and the Tigers. Game 2 in Tuscaloosa will be on February 27th.
1) Bowers' play has skyrocketed. I don't know what switch flipped or what mental state he's gotten in, but Bowers' play in the Kentucky game and then again tonight has been out of this world. He's a completely different player right now than he was for the previous games where he was coming off the bench. Maybe being relegated there motivated him. Either way, while still making some of the typical Bowers mistakes, he also made some fantastic decisions and amazing plays on tip-ins and put-back dunks.
2) Kareem Canty is disgustingly good. No, really. I'm just going to leave this here and it's all that needs to be said.
There's being "on" and then there is Auburn's Kareem Canty tonight. Just silly. https://t.co/R5N9FPUjHU— Justin King (@JustinKing) January 20, 2016
3) Auburn Arena, packed, is an amazing venue. For the second game in a row, Auburn sold out the Arena. If Auburn could consistently get that going, then the Tigers can really have an Arena that's an extremely tough to play in. It obviously had an effect on this game.