TUSCALOOSA — Bruce Pearl said it more than once during the days leading up to No. 4 Auburn’s rivalry bout with Alabama: “We’re going to get beat.”
The sixth-year head coach did not necessarily mean in Wednesday’s game at Coleman Coliseum. He just meant that, eventually, it was going to happen. Losing is inevitable in college basketball. Only four teams in the last 40 years have finished the regular season undefeated. There hasn’t been an undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976.
Pearl didn’t want to be right. He definitely didn’t want to be right Wednesday night, across the state, against his program’s biggest rival. But he was. Auburn got beat.
Alabama won, 83-64, in front of a raucous crowd inside Coleman Coliseum to knock the Tigers from the ranks of the unbeaten. San Diego State is now the only team in America without a loss on its resume.
Here are three takeaways:
1. Starting slow finally caught up to Auburn.
Auburn has made a habit of starting slow this season, on both ends of the court. Over its last eight games entering Wednesday’s, it had made just 36.9 percent of its shots through the first 10 minutes of the game while allowing opponents to shoot 48.8 percent.
But that slow start had never really held the Tigers back much, at least not since a Dec. 5 game against Furman where they had to erase a 14-point second-half deficit just to win in overtime.
Alabama proved a much tougher test than the Paladins. And Auburn’s start was much, much worse.
The Tigers went into halftime trailing 36-27, and it was only that close because freshman Isaac Okoro was able to go on a personal 5-0 run in the final minute. The freshman wing shot 5 of 6 in the first half. The rest of the team shot just 4 of 23.
Auburn missed its first 10 attempts from beyond the arc and turned the ball over 12 times — already more than it averaged over its previous five full games (11.8). And only two of those were steals. The Crimson Tide flipped those turnovers into 11 points.
So often this season, though, Auburn has dug in after that slow start. Over those same last eight games, it outscored opponents by 90 points after those first 10 minutes. But the switch never flipped Wednesday.
The Tigers got to within two points a little more than five minutes into the second half. The Crimson Tide responded with a 19-8 run.
2. Auburn struggled to do the things it is normally good at.
The Tigers hadn’t turned the ball over more than 17 times since that overtime win over Furman on Dec. 5. They turned it over 21 times Wednesday, which matches their season-high set in the opener against Georgia Southern.
The visitors entered Wednesday’s game ranked fourth nationally making 57.1 percent of its 2-point shots. They made just 11 of 25 layups/dunks in Coleman Coliseum.
3. Samir Doughty might like to forget this night ever happened.
#HeadbandSamir has been a fun storyline for this Auburn team all season. The senior guard first put it on during the third game of the season and has worn it ever since. He has played incredibly well with it on his head, too, leading the team scoring 15.7 points per game.
But about midway through the first half Wednesday, Doughty ripped that headband off. The mojo was no longer working.
The senior guard played maybe his worst game of the season, scoring just six points on 2-for-11 shooting and committing seven turnovers before fouling out.