Alabama basketball upsets undefeated No. 4 Auburn, 83-64
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Adorned in plastic hard hats, Alabama’s student section roared with every big shot the Crimson Tide rained in. They chastised and chanted at their visitors from across the state. And when the final horn sounded inside of Coleman Coliseum to signify Alabama’s 83-64 victory over No. 4 Auburn, they smiled.
There weren’t any disappointed faces Wednesday night — at least none wearing crimson and white.
The build-up for this game began during SEC Basketball Media Day in October when Auburn forward Anfernee McLemore claimed that Coleman Coliseum was his favorite visiting venue to play in, stating, “I like the look of disappointment on their faces when we win.” Tuesday, Alabama head coach Nate Oats responded by saying, “We’ll see if it’s still his favorite place to play tomorrow.”
Following the game, Oats said he had "a lot of respect" for McLemore but admitted he did use the forward's remarks as motivation for his players.
"I actually liked it, it added to the rivalry," Oats said. "We made sure that quote was on the screen, the last thing our players saw before they went out. It was nice he gave us that"
Coleman wasn’t a friendly place for any player in orange and blue. Auburn (15-1, 3-1 in the SEC) entered the game as one of two undefeated teams in Division I men’s basketball. The defeat was just the Tigers’ second in 29 games dating back to February 27 of last year. The other loss came against eventual national champion Virginia in last season’s Final Four.
The victory gave Alabama (9-7, 2-2) its first win over a top-five team since it upset No. 5 Texas A&M in Coleman Coliseum during the 2017-18 season. It also marked Oats' first signature win with Alabama as his team played to his patented blue-collar style. The Crimson Tide scrapped its way up and down the court, drawing charges and diving for balls while forcing 21 turnovers on the night.
"If we're going to make a run and try to play in the NCAA Tournament, we've got to get signature wins," Oats said. "You've got to get these ones. We're going to have to go get some road wins, too. It's good to get that monkey off our back. We've got a signature win now. Now we've got to go on a run and get wins, period."
Oats became the first Alabama head coach to win his first game against Auburn since David Hobbs in 1993. The Crimson Tide’s previous three coaches — Avery Johnson, Anthony Grant and Mark Gottfried — all failed to accomplish the feat.
"I didn't even know that, it's good that you told me," Oats said when informed of the accomplishment. "It feels great, we're 1-0. Let's see if we can enjoy 1-0 for I don't even know when we play them next. I guess they'll be ready for us when we come there. It feels good to be 1-0 for right now."
Wednesday night's matchup featured two of the nation’s best offenses as Alabama entered the ranked No. 7 averaging 83.2 points per game while Auburn came in at No. 11 averaging 82.1 points per contest. While neither team completely lived up to its offensive billing, the Crimson Tide fared much better on the night, outshooting the Tigers 43 percent to 32 percent from the floor.
A game after going 4 of 21 from beyond the arc in a loss to Kentucky, Alabama continued to misfire from deep against Auburn. The Crimson Tide was just 6 of 21 (29 percent) from range Wednesday. Fortunately for Alabama, Auburn was worse, going 7 of 28 (25 percent) from 3.
"It's the second game in a row where we've only got 21 3s up," Oats said. "It's not really how we want to play. With us making over 11 (per game) — I think at one point we were second or third in the country in 3s made per game. I think teams are going to try to run you off. I've always told the guys, 'We're never going to go into a game saying we need X number of 3s or a certain player needs X number.' The game dictates how you play."
Energized by a sellout crowd, Alabama started off hot, building an early lead while Auburn suffered a 2 of 15 shooting slump. The Crimson Tide took a 36-27 lead into the half before Auburn came battling back after the break.
Auburn took advantage of sloppy start to the second half from Alabama as the Tigers chipped away at the Crimson Tide’s lead, bringing the score 44-41 with 13:58 to play. However, that's as close as Auburn would get as its offense went cold midway through the period, allowing Alabama to pull away and close out the upset.
Kira Lewis Jr. led the Crimson Tide with 25 points on 8 of 14 shooting. Alex Reese scored 13 points while going 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, including a 3 to give Alabama a 49-41 lead with 13:17 remaining. Herbert Jones notched his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Auburn was lead by Isaac Okoro, who scored. McLemore, whose comments fueled the Crimson Tide's upset, finished with 6 points on 2 of 8 shooting.
Alabama will remain at home as it hosts Missouri (9-7, 1-3) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT. The Tigers enter the matchup fresh off a 72-45 loss to Mississippi State earlier this week.
Alabama won its lone meeting against Missouri last season, beating the Tigers 70-60 in Columbia, Mo. Missouri is led by junior guard Dru Smith, who leads the SEC with 2.3 steals per game while also averaging a team-leading 11.4 points and 4.2 assists per game.