Auburn looked a season sweep of Alabama in the eyes then watched it brush by like a stranger in a crowd. The reduced-strength Tigers showed up and again played a shockingly good game of basketball against an Alabama team that is on the bubble of the NCAA tournament. Auburn got good production from Bowers and Spencer but couldn't hit enough free throws late to hold on to a ten point second half lead.
The first half started badly for the Tigers. Auburn hit only one of their first eight shots from the field during the first 8:30 of the ballgame. Auburn's slow start continued until the 7:25 mark and Auburn fell behind 24-14. That's when Horace Spencer woke up. Spencer poured in a beautiful hook shot to bring Auburn within 6. Forty seconds later, Donta Hall victimized Horace with a huge block.
Spencer the Defensor got up limping. That's when he got angry. Next trip down he barely missed a huge block on defense. Then, Spencer brought the thunder:
Auburn finished the first half on a solid run and trailed just 31-29 at the break. Spencer led the Tigers with 8 points. Bowers had 5 with 7 rebounds. Had Auburn shot better from the charity stripe, the could have easily led despite the cold start.
Auburn continued its streak at the start of the second half. Another Horace Spencer hook from 12 feet out gave him a career high 10 points with 19 minutes to play. A Bryce Brown three pointer gave Auburn its first lead 36-33 with 18 minutes left. Auburn built a 10 point lead five minutes in and didn't miss a shot for the first 8:30 of the second half.
Then both teams went cold. Auburn was 0-5 from the floor. Neither team could buy a free throw. The game was tight and it felt like either team could get hot and claim victory but neither team wanted it.
Alabama tied it up with 6:24 to play on a steal and a layup. It took its first lead of the second half with 5:30 to play. The rest of the game kind of limped by with bad shooting and bad free throws and Alabama won 65-57.
Bowers ended up with another double double with 12 points and 13 boards. Spencer had a career high scoring night with 10. TJ Dunans was 3-5 from the free throw line making him the only Tiger to shoot better than 50% from the line tonight. Bryce Brown added 14 off the bench with 4 three pointers.
Obviously, it hurts to lose but it's still fun watching these young guys lay their guts on the line again and again and again. Sooner or later--likely next season--these close losses are going to turn into wins.
So what did we learn?
1) Horace Spencer is almost there. He is playing his best basketball down the stretch and is this close to being a real enforcer in the paint. I expect big things from him next year.
2) TJ Dunans is not a point guard but is our best option there at the moment. TJ is good at working the ball inside to Bowers and Spencer. He is willing to drive to the paint and can find open players off the pick and roll or dish it outside for an open shot. I hope he gets to play shooting guard or wing next season but for now, we need him handling the ball as much as possible.
3) Free throw shooting continues to plague the Tigers. We were 12-27 from the free throw line. It's hard to say that was the difference in the game as Alabama was an equally abysmal 17-29. There was a time where both teams were under 50%. Alabama made some down the line. Auburn missed them all.
4) Officiating this season continues to be awful. The refs cheated everyone equally but they were calling the game way to close. They also made an entire NBA season's worth of traveling calls in the second half. They need to look at undoing some of the rule changes they've made that brought us to this point in the offseason.