Forty minutes wasn’t enough for the Iron Bowl of basketball. After a back-and-forth second period, mirroring in many ways the team’s previous meeting a month ago, Alabama’s No. 2 was too much for Auburn.
Four different Crimson Tide players had four straight shots in overtime after three of the Tigers’ most influential players were taken out. Leading by two with about a minute left, Jaden Bradley and Mark Sears grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds, eventually bringing Bradley to the line to ice him. At the final buzzer, a season of historic successes took the next step in exciting fashion.
After reaching its highest ranking in the Associated Press poll. After rolling the conference with 11 wins in at least double digits than the team record set in 1956, by UA Athletics. After an undefeated 15-0 home season, the first since the Tide went 19-0 in 2010-11, Alabama was able to add another honorary title to this year’s team: the absolute champions of the Southeastern Conference regular season.
In front of a raucous Coleman Coliseum, the No. 2 Tide (26-4, 16-1) took a late lead for a 90-85 victory. Three different players scored 17 points as Sears and Noah Clowney scored key baskets and Brandon Miller (17 points on three field goals and 10 free throws) couldn’t find a rhythm.
Meanwhile, Auburn (19-11, 9-8), set a new season high in 3-pointers made (12) and overall percentage (12-for-20). It also topped the Tide for most of the contest. Still, with three of the Tigers’ top scorers finishing the game – Allen Flanigan (17 points), Jaylin Williams (15) and Johni Broone (10) each scratched – there was a lack of goals and inside defensive options at critical time. . Bruce Pearl’s team added a competitive performance to their March Madness resume, but not the Quadrant 1 win they were looking for this week.
Led by KD Johnson’s 21 points, including four 3-pointers in five tries, Auburn’s head-to-head was exceptional. Using off-the-ball screens and dribbling transfers, the Tigers created space near the paint and benefited from jump shots. It seemed in the first frame and for most of the second half, whenever the crowd reached a crescendo, Johnson, Williams or Flanigan would respond.
As halftime approached with a seven-point lead, a handful of fans clad in blue and orange broke into a “Let’s go Auburn” chant as Alabama entered the tunnel.
Beginning about halfway through the second half, Alabama began to recover from a 17-point deficit. Broome’s absence only underscored Auburn’s shortcomings on the inside. Dylan Cardwell, his backup center, left the field late with an apparent right leg injury and never returned. Alabama converted 18 of 27 layup attempts while Auburn made seven of 21 from close quarters. At one point, Auburn had a nearly six-minute streak without field goals and five turnovers.
Like it did against Arkansas and the Plains on Feb. 11, Alabama started making their moves, sparking a 14-0 run. Sears and Clowney came out of the break and hit two 3s. Screens atop the key started to appear in open space near the edge. Even Miller, whose presence was felt the most during the extra period, worked in the lane and caught the attention of others.
A technical double fault led to a stoppage of several minutes in the second half. After referees reviewed an on-field scrimmage where players from both teams were to be separated, Broome fouled Auburn and Alabama’s Charles Bediako and Rylan Griffin were ejected.
Alabama then attacked the paint while Auburn fell 3 points. The Tigers made nine of their first 11 but then missed six of their last nine.
The night ended with a ladder set up under a basket and party music echoing through the rafters.
Oats’ second title in four years makes the Tide the top seed in next week’s conference tournament in Nashville. With the double bye, Alabama is in the driver’s seat for a one-time NCAA Tournament seed, which could potentially see them play their first two games in Birmingham.
This post will be updated.
Nick Alvarez is a reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @nick_a_alvarez or email him at NALvarez@al.com.