By: Garrett Franks
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The eyes of college basketball turned to the state of Alabama as the Crimson Tide defeated Auburn 77-69.
Coming into the game, many described this as “Auburn’s Superbowl.” The sidewalks all around Neville Arena were littered with tents of students who camped out days in-advance to see the Crimson Tide.
The first half could only be described in one way: physical.
While the Crimson tide shot an incredible 63% from the field, they struggled with consistency throughout the whole first half. Brandon Miller led the Tide in scoring at half but couldn’t buy a bucket from beyond the arc. The defensive effort for both teams made the game always feel tight. It was frantic from the start, with an anxiety inducing thickness to the game. Within the confines of the 9100 seats at Neville Arena, the noise could be heard throughout Lee County.
The passion of Auburn student section “the Jungle” mad the game feel like a tournament game in March.
“Big rivalry game, and our guys stepped up and played well for us,” said Coach Nate Oats.
The high intensity caused the game to slow down, something that is frowned-upon in the “Ball N’ Oats” system.
“It’s hard to play fast when the other team is at the free throw line all day, so we’ve got to do a better job of not fouling,” said Oats.
Fouls were once again a main talking point after the game. The inconsistency from SEC officials usually dominates the Twitter-sphere.
Both Alabama and Auburn amassed 36 fouls, many of which summoned boos and groans from both sides.
As the game progressed through the first half, it felt like every bucket was doubled, a five-point deficit felt like ten. While the tide had moments of sloppiness, they tied it up going into the second half. Alabama is no stranger to physical clash. Throughout the whole season, they’ve shown gritty performances in tough road environments.
The second half felt like an all-out war. Body flew all over the place, for every loose ball and physical foul. While Alabama only made three of 12 from behind the arc, they shot 56% from the field. On the other hand, Auburn shot a woeful 28.6% in the second half. That shooting discrepancy was the difference maker in the game.
Rylan Griffin won the Blue Collar Award for his offensive and defensive efforts. Griffin came off the bench and provided a much-needed spark for his team.
“Coming in we knew this was going to be a big game, we know every possession matters,” said Griffin. “We learned a lot from that loss in Oklahoma – [that loss] helped us out today.”
Griffin finished with 16 points on five of seven shooting and grabbing two boards. Mark Sears also had a strong performance, at times it felt like all the offensive duties fell on him. He finished the game with 15 points, alongside a strong six rebounds and three assists.
Alabama is now 22-3 on the season and is currently ranked #3 in the latest AP poll. The Tide is also a historic 12-o in conference. The Tide will head up to the Volunteer state to take on the #6 Tennessee Volunteers February 15th at 6:00 p.m..