AUBURN — Bryce Brown’s 3-pointer rattled in and out, rare for him and the quick guards who fuel this run-and-gun Auburn basketball team on such an unforeseen, meteoric rise.
Immediately, Horace Spencer barreled through the lane. Alabama neglected to box him out, touch him, do anything, really. Spencer, all 6-foot-8 of him, skied to throw down a putback dunk. Auburn’s lead was 24, this the completion of the Tigers’ undressing of Alabama.
The Crimson Tide — a long, defensive-first team with such a pristine matchup against a small, undermanned Tigers bunch — melted down. It neglected to defend. For a second straight game, it refused to rebound.
And it lost 90-71, a humiliating end to the interstate series that harkened back memories of another pitiful performance.
“They were the aggressor,” Tide coach Avery Johnson said.
Not since Nov. 25 — the same day the Crimson Tide football team lost to Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium — had Alabama had such a miserable defensive performance. That 89-84 effort, a loss to Minnesota, was excusable. The Tide played the final 10 minutes of the game with three eligible players.
Five played Wednesday, allowing the team’s most points of the season against an Auburn team with seven — yes, seven — scholarship players. Tigers guard Mustapha Heron was sidelined with a stomach virus, leaving the Bruce Pearl’s beleaguered bunch — four days removed from forward Anfernee McElmore’s gruesome foot injury — somehow more shorthanded than it entered.
“We told them, ‘If Mustapha Heron doesn’t play tonight, they’re still a really good basketball team,’” Johnson said. “You only need five guys.”
Auburn’s 90 points were the most Alabama’s allowed in conference play. It entered Wednesday allowing just 65.8 points a game in conference play and SEC opponents shot only 29 percent from 3-point territory against it.
The Tigers out-scored Alabama 50-36 in the second half.
“Second half, I felt like we weren’t hustling,” said Alabama point guard Collin Sexton, who led the team with 25 points. “They were just driving and, when we did help, then we weren’t rotating one more time. That’s why they got open (3-pointers). Also, we weren’t boxing out. They were coming over our backs, getting rebounds and and-ones.”
Added Johnson: “We’re normally a team that doesn’t give up 50 points in a game, let alone a half.”
Auburn shot 42 percent from the field and made 12 of its 34 3-pointers, rifling passes around the court and out-running a Tide team predicated upon stingy defense and flying in transition. The Tigers out-scored Alabama 17-6 in transition and assisted 14 times on 29 field goals.
Only two of Auburn’s players — Chuma Okeke and Horace Spencer — stood 6-foot-8 or taller, a favorable matchup the lengthy Alabama squad failed to exploit. Four days after allowing 20 offensive rebounds to Kentucky, Alabama allowed Auburn to grab 14, off of which it scored 17 second-chance points.
Auburn out-rebounded Alabama 41-35.
“We gave up too many offensive rebounds,” Johnson said. “When you don’t shoot it as well as you need to shoot it offensively, we’re not getting enough of our misses back. … We were 266th in the country (in defensive rebounding) for a reason.”
Okeke had the best game of his career, a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds against an Alabama frontcourt which failed to appear.
Starting Tide forwards Donta Hall and Daniel Giddens combined for seven points on just five shot attempts. The duo grabbed just six rebounds.
Alabama maintained one viable opportunity for a second-half comeback. Guard Avery Johnson Jr. spun two defenders and banked a layup to cut his team’s deficit to 55-52.
Auburn uncorked a 20-8 run to turn the game into a farce, aided by an abysmal, foul-filled Alabama defense — stunning for a team prided for such that — and misfiring on wide-open shots.
Saturday, it returns home against Arkansas, a place where Johnson surmised he coaches “a different team,” one that defeated Auburn in early January.
“We’ve already beat the No. 1 team in the SEC at home,” said Johnson, rankled by a reporter noticing his even-keeled demeanor in the postgame news conference. “It’s not like we got swept. Isn’t the series 1-1? The way I deal with my team with a communication standpoint, I don’t have to show it all over the world.”