Auburn went into Tuscaloosa, built a 14-point lead, lost it, and won anyway. The Tigers escaped with an 81-77 victory for their 12th-straight win and a huge road result in the SEC. Now, Auburn stands at 15-1 overall, and 4-0 in the league after a masterful night from Jabari Smith and Wendell Green, whose 25 and 19 points respectively led the way.
Auburn had to play most of this game without Walker Kessler, but that didn’t stop the defense from playing well as they accrued 11 blocks and outrebounded the Tide overall. Alabama had five players in double digits, led by Jahvon Quinerly’s 14, but it wasn’t enough to overcome an inspired night from Smith and Green.
Jabari Smith was hot to start this game, working on both ends of the floor with 6 early points before the first stoppage in play, and it was a good thing too. Walker Kessler got tagged with two fouls in the first three minutes of play and had to sit out. Dylan Cardwell came in and immediately scored on a follow dunk and a block on the defensive end in Kessler’s place. Auburn led 12-10 before Darius Miles hit a three for Alabama to put the Tide on top.
Auburn answered with a jumper from Wendell Green, Jr. and a steal and score from Allen Flanigan tao take a 16-15 edge before Noah Gurley hit another triple for the Tide as we neared the midway point of the half. After Flanigan tied the game at 18-18 out of the timeout, Jabari Smith took over scoring the next five points for Auburn and blocking a shot on the defensive end. Walker Kessler checked back in with a dangerous two fouls, and the under-8 timeout hit with the game tied at 23.
After the stoppage, Auburn began to settle in even more. Wendell Green started to frustrate Alabama’s defense, going coast to coast to give Auburn a 25-23 lead, then after a K.D. Johnson bucket, Green tossed an alley-oop to Devan Cambridge for a 29-23 edge and a quick timeout from Nate Oats with about 5:30 to go in the first half.
Auburn continued to put pressure on as Kessler went back to the bench after giving the Tigers a few clean minutes with two fouls. K.D. Johnson stepped into a long straightaway triple try to give the Tigers a 32-25 lead, and then stole a pass and forced J.D. Davison to foul instead of giving up an easy transition bucket, and that led into the final timeout of the first half.
The Tigers let Alabama get within a basket with some sloppy play that allowed a three from Jahvon Quinerly and came from two fouls on Allen Flanigan. Leading 38-35 with the shot clock off, Devan Cambridge tipped in a missed three from Green and Auburn was able to establish a 40-35 lead at halftime.
Auburn had only hit 2-14 threes at the break, and hadn’t had Walker Kessler on the floor except for 6 minutes (with 0 points and 2 rebonds) and still led heading into the intermission.
Keon Ellis opened the second half with a three for Alabama to pull the Tide within a basket, but K.D. Johnson laid in a transition basket and Jabari Smith buried a corner three moments later. Kessler got tagged with his third foul just two minutes into the second half and took another seat on the bench. Jabari Smith then added a turnaround jumper and forced a foul on another three-point shot, and after his trip to the foul line for three shots the Tigers led 49-43 with 17:19 left to play. To this point Smith had already accumulated 20 points.
Wendell Green buried a corner three just before the 16-minute mark, then hit another from Highway 280 to build a double-digit lead for the first time tonight as the Tigers went into the under-16 break leading 57-47. After shooting poorly from distance in the first half, Auburn opened the second half 3-3 from deep to build that margin. Green continued to cook, stealing a pass and taking the ball all the way for a reverse layup to give Auburn a 61-49 lead with 13:00 remaining.
Alabama cut into the lead with Auburn’s starters on the bench, and at the under-12 timeout it was 61-55 in favor of the Tigers. After an 8-0 run by Alabama, Dylan Cardwell got tagged with a Flagrant 1, but then followed it up by drawing a foul, scoring on a second-chance dunk, and then gave way to Wendell Green to do his thing on offense. With Jabari Smith eating up missed shots on the glass, Green slipped between a double team to score a slippery layup, and then followed it with a rainbow three that scraped the roof of the Tractor Depot.
After Alabama had cut the double digit lead to just two baskets, Auburn quickly rebuilt the 11-point edge heading into the under-8 timeout. Walker Kessler came back in after the timeout and scored his first bucket on a dunk, and then Jabari Smith added another corner three for his 23rd point of the night and pushed the Auburn lead to 73-59 with 7:36 left.
Alabama wasn’t done, though, and they went on a 14-0 run highlighted by two threes from Jaden Shackelford and a big dunk from JD Davison over Walker Kessler. Kessler fouled out on a charge call with about five minutes to play, and a dunk by Darius Miles tied the game at 73-73 at the final break of the game.
Jabari Smith broke the Bama run by getting fouled on a rebound and heading to the free throw line, where he made both shots to retake the lead for Auburn at 75-73. After Bama tied it with foul shots, K.D. Johnson reemerged and scored while going to the ground and Auburn led 77-75 as the clock went under 2-minutes. After the Tide again tied the game with foul shots, Flanigan hit a pair to put Auburn back on top 79-77 with less than a minute to play. Javhon Quinerly passed up a wide open corner three on Bama’s next possession, Instead, he drove, got rejected, and the ensuing scuffle resulted in Flanigan getting fouled. He went to the line and made another pair to put Auburn up 81-77 with :19 to play.
On Bama’s possession, needing to score, Dylan Cardwell blocked the Quinerly three, and K.D. Johnson was able to run the clock all the way down to five seconds before getting fouled, and Bama’s last second shot fell shot. The Tigers won 81-77 to improve to 15-1.
Auburn will head back on the road for the second-straight game to meet Ole Miss at the Pavilion in Oxford this Saturday night. Tip-off will come at 7:30 pm CST.