Auburn plays Alabama tonight in the friendly confines of Auburn Arena, and there’s a lot at stake.
The Tigers can eliminate nearly everyone else in the SEC for the regular season conference championship if they win tonight. The only team still mathematically alive would be the winner of the Tennessee-Florida game this evening.
Auburn can get revenge on the Tide for what happened at Coleman Coliseum more than a month ago. Alabama went nuts from the floor at home, and now they’ve got to do it again on the road to beat a Tiger team that’s looking for a rebound.
Furthermore, Auburn has to find a way to make up for the loss of Anfernee McLemore in the middle. The league’s leading shot-blocker, and one of the most versatile and clutch players on the team was lost for the year to a horrific ankle injury in the loss to South Carolina on Saturday. Horace Spencer will step up in his place, then Chuma Okeke, but McLemore’s impact will be missed.
The SEC Championship is so close that Auburn can nearly taste it, but tough games remain. Tonight at home with one of the only teams to already beat Auburn, then Saturday in Gainesville, next week at Arkansas, and the finale at home with South Carolina. If Auburn lost all of those, I’d be surprised, but not shocked. If Auburn won all of those, I’d be surprised, but not shocked. The Tigers need two wins to clinch the SEC. TWO. Go .500 the rest of the way and you get it.
And it has to start off well tonight at home against the Tide.
Alabama beat us 76-71 in the first meeting, and Auburn nearly made a big comeback, with a shot to win in the final seconds. John Petty hit eight threes against us as Collin Sexton sat on the bench with an injury. Since that game, the Tide have almost gone win-loss in succession in the nine games they’ve played. Alabama’s only won back to back games once in that stretch — vs Tennessee and LSU — and have been a crazy inconsistent team.
Avery Johnson’s bunch lost by double-digits to Ole Miss, but blew out Florida and Tennessee. They lost at Missouri and Kentucky, but had no trouble with Oklahoma. It’s weird. And the addition of Collin Sexton back into the lineup almost screws up the flow. It’s as if they played better when they didn’t depend on Sexton to take over a game... it let the other players flourish on the court.
What about the guy that ruined us last time? John Petty hit eight threes, scored 27 points, and almost single-handedly kept the Tide on top. Since then, he’s averaged only seven points a game, and shot just around 34% from three. In four road games since our last meeting, he’s hit just five threes, and he’s shooting 5-24 from downtown. That’s about 21%. Let’s hope he doesn’t find the range on the Plains tonight.
As for Sexton, he’s gotten double-digits in each of the last seven games. He’ll add a new element that Auburn hasn’t seen yet, and it’ll only make things more difficult to deal with as the size of Donta Hall and Dazon Ingram will be tough tasks for our smaller lineup.
When you look at Auburn, though, the Tigers have answered the call after each loss this season. Each time the Tigers fell, they came back with a double-digit win the next time out. Bruce Pearl’s done a fantastic job of remotivating and correcting mistakes. He’ll need to do his best job of that tonight.
It ought to be the best atmosphere that Auburn Arena’s had all year, so let’s make it tough on the Tide tonight. War Eagle.
HOW TO WATCH AND LISTEN - Auburn vs Alabama - 7:30 pm CST - Auburn, AL
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Auburn Sports Network