After Alabama’s 68-50 victory at Auburn on Tuesday, spin looks a lot more like reality.
Sans Mitchell, Alabama (16-7) routed a team that had a 12-1 record at home, including a more competitive game against top-ranked Kentucky.
Sans Mitchell, guys like Charles Hankerson stepped up with 14 points, sinking three 3-pointers.
Take away Tony, and Alabama hardly looked like a team three days and 160 miles removed from a double-overtime victory over Ole Miss.
The only team that got worn out in Auburn Arena on Tuesday was Auburn.
The only team that lost its cool in Auburn Arena was Auburn.
Alabama? Well, the Crimson Tide is one game into its new indefinite reality minus its second-leading scorer and rebounder, and the Tide looks one game better than it was with Mitchell.
It Mitchell didn’t get the message when Alabama announced his suspension Monday, then he should have gotten the message in watching his teammates go on just fine without him.
Assuming, of course, he watched.
“Our guys understood the challenge that we had, and we came out with great energy,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “… Overall, everybody that stepped on the floor tonight gave great effort.”
Tuesday’s game was the latest positive development for Alabama since suffering an inexcusable loss Jan. 25 at South Carolina at the end of a four-game losing streak.
Since that time, Grant has gotten mileage from benching his stars. He took JaMychal Green out of the starting lineup, and he wound up playing big off the bench in a skid-stopping victory over Arkansas.
Green came up big again Tuesday with a team-high 19 points, scoring from the post and from behind the 3-point arc. He also had seven rebounds and four assists --- more than anyone on Auburn’s team.
After Alabama outlasted Ole Miss 69-67 through 50 minutes of basketball Saturday, Grant’s search for his team’s soul led him to suspend Mitchell. Throw in a quick turnaround to Tuesday’s game and Auburn’s out-of-body play at home, and all logic pointed to at least one bad night in the aftermath.
After watching Alabama’s defense zone out an Auburn team that scored 81 points at Mississippi State on Saturday, it seems all of this soul searching did nothing but clear the air in Grant’s camp.
Alabama didn’t do it without help.
Auburn drew two technical fouls for hanging on the rim and another after a questionable moving screen call against Rob Chubb in the first half. Alabama guard Trevor Releford came up grinning after his acting job then went on to hit his fifth and sixth technical free throws on the night.
Those technical fouls coincided with a major turning point in the game.
It seemed Auburn had a legitimate beef on the call against Chubb and the hanging-on-the-rim technical against Chris Denson, but Alabama took advantage.
“It had nothing to do with the officiating,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “We just didn’t play well, and give Alabama credit.
“They came in here and played with a high level of confidence, and at the end of the day, it came down to toughness. We got out-toughed..”
Indeed, Alabama looked like the team that had it all together Tuesday, even when off-court developments coming into the game made it look like the Tide could come apart.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.