Auburn changed its plans at halftime.
Auburn was tired of trailing by double digits and watching 3-pointers fall short, go long or totally miss the basket.
So, the Tigers did what any team would do against a team longer and bigger them.
They attacked the paint.
Yes, it worked, and the ensuing 66-60 win on the road at Alabama proved the Tigers could battle back after facing a monstrous deficit on the road.Chuma Okekescored 17 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished three assists against the bigger and stronger Tide. He was Okeke The Cookie Monster for the Tigers in the paint, gobbling up rebounds and scoring against forwards as Auburn managed to somehow nix Alabama’s size advantage with Okeke’s speed and spacing to spark an 18-2 run that included a steal and 3-pointer by the sophomore.
“He was my guy. He was my matchup,” Auburn coachBruce Pearlsaid. “He was the guy we went to. … That’s why he’s a great player.”
The Tigers (21-9, 10-7 SEC) opened up a quick 8-0 run in a span of 70 seconds following a pair of free throws with more than 12 minutes remaining, and then the Tigers kept pouring it on to extend it to an 18-2 run and grab a lead. Auburn trailed 34-23 at halftime, but managed to score 43 in the decisive second half.
“It wasn’t pretty, except the outcome,” Pearl said.
Then, with the game tied in the final 2 minutes, junior point guardJared Harpertook over the game. He blew past Alabama’sHerbert Jonestwice for layups and Alabama could not get a shot to fall in the final 90 seconds.
“Get that ball to Jared, get out of his way, let him go downhill and make plays,” Pearl said.
Auburn out-scored Alabama 34-32 in the paint and scored 17 points off turnovers in the second half on its way to 28 points off 19 total turnovers. Auburn forced 11 turnovers in the second half and committed only four offensive miscues that led to turnovers. Alabama managed zero points off Auburn’s turnovers in the second half.
Alabama (17-13, 8-9) tied the game onTevin Mack‘s 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining, but Auburn scored the final six points, including back-to-back layups by Harper.Samir Doughtyknocked down a pair of free throws after stealing an in-bounds pass in the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
The victory secured the first back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins in the conference since 1976. Pearl is also only the third coach in Auburn history to win two games or more in Tuscaloosa.
On a night the Tigers could not get 3-pointers to fall as Harper andBryce Browncombined to hit 3 of 14 three-pointers, the Tigers used their defense and smart offense in the half court in the second half to erase the double-digit deficit.
The Tigers were held seven 3-pointers below their season average (11.1).
Harper finished with 16 points and had only one assist, but it was his drives to the basket that proved to be enough for the Tigers down the stretch.Malik Dunbaradded eight points and four rebounds and Brown had seven points.
Auburn enters Wednesday tied with South Carolina for fourth place in the SEC. The Tigers could finish as high as fourth or as low as eighth with one game remaining in the regular season.
The Tigers return to Auburn Arena to host No. 5 Tennessee. Tipoff Saturday is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT.
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