TUSCALOOSA — Nate Oats had heard Anfernee McLemore’s bold comments about Coleman Coliseum being his favorite place to play — because he liked to see the “disappointment” when Auburn wins — earlier this year at SEC Media Days.
So too did Alabama’s players, and the home team responded accordingly in its first opportunity, snapping the No. 4-ranked Tigers’ season-opening win streak with a convincing 83-64 victory Wednesday night inside a sold-out Coleman Coliseum.
Crimson Tide sophomore point guard Kira Lewis Jr., a native of Meridianville, was unstoppable most of the night with 25 points, including shooting 8 of 9 from the free throw line, while junior wing Herbert Jones added 14 points and 12 rebounds for his second double-double in the last five games. Junior forward Alex Reese, one of four in-state players on Alabama’s roster (along with Jones, Lewis and junior wing John Petty Jr.), added 13 points on 3 of 6 shooting from 3-point range, and graduate senior guard James “Beetle” Bolden scored 11, eight of which came in the second half.
Meanwhile, Auburn (15-1, 3-1 SEC) struggled to get going offensively in the first half and never could quite get over the hump, even with a second-half surge. The Tigers finished 20 of 63 from the floor, including just 9 of 29 in the first half, while the Crimson Tide (9-7, 2-2 SEC) shot a balanced 43 percent (24 of 56) throughout the game.
The win evened things up in Tuscaloosa over the past four seasons, and gave the Auburn seniors — McLemore included — a 2-2 record in Coleman Coliseum for their career.
Here are three takeaways from Alabama’s 83-64 upset of No. 4 Auburn:
1. Fast start propels Alabama to season-defining victory.
Alabama’s attacking style had rival Auburn on the ropes from the start.
Defensively, the aggressive Tide forced the Tigers into two big turnovers in the first four minutes of action, including freshman guard Jaden Shackelford drawing his fifth charge of the season with 15:49 to play in the opening half.
But after starting 4 of 5 from the floor to pull ahead 9-4 in the game’s first 2:44, Alabama made just two of its next 13 field goal tries, including missing six straight one point.
Thankfully for the Tide, Auburn wasn’t shooting much better at the time, missing 10 straight field goals over an eight-minute stretch before back-to-back layups by Isaac Okoro ended the skid and pulled the Tigers back within 21-16 with 6:46 remaining in the first half.
Of course, by that point, Alabama had already found its stroke, making 5 of 7 to pull ahead 25-17 on a pair of Lewis layups with 5:53 left.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Bolden and Reese started a charge that turned into a 15-5 run for a 14-point advantage (35-22) with 1:11 remaining before halftime.
2. Reese comes up big against uncle’s alma mater.
The Iron Bowl rivalry is probably especially interesting in the Reese household.
Growing up in the Birmingham suburb of Pelham, Reese opted to head west and is a junior forward on the Crimson Tide basketball team. His uncle, Quinton Reese, made his mark two decades earlier as a defensive end on the Auburn football team.
Safe to say, the younger Reese was particularly motivated for Wednesday’s game, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the first half and fueling Alabama’s first half surge with 2 of his 3 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes of action.
About 30 seconds after his 3-pointer put the Tide up 49-41 with 13:17 remaining, Reese gingerly walked off the court with 12:47 left in regulation and went straight to the Alabama locker room. Reese eventually returned to the bench with 10:25 remaining in the game sporting a black sleeve around his right knee and stepped back onto the court with 8:57 left.
3. What Wednesday’s win means for Alabama.
Make no mistake, Alabama’s first win over a Top-4 team since knocking off a No. 1-ranked Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament is pretty big.
It’ll be especially important come tournament time when Auburn could be among the teams in contention for a Top-4 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.