Alabama Basketball Shocks No. 4 Auburn, 83-64
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama men's basketball won big Wednesday night, upsetting the undefeated No. 4 Auburn Tigers 83-64 and earning first-year head coach Nate Oats his first signature win with the Crimson Tide.
Auburn was 15-0 entering Wednesday night's game in Coleman Coliseum and didn't lead for a single second through its entirety.
"We've been needing a signature win," Oats said. "We were close a few times obviously. We should have had the Florida game. You know if we're going to make a run to try to play in the NCAA Tournament, you've got to get signature wins. You're going to have to get these ones. You're gonna have to go get some road wins too, so it's good to get that monkey off our back.
"We've kinda got a signature win now [and] now we gotta go on a run and get wins period."
Sophomore guard Kira Lewis, Jr., had a huge game, registering 25 points, three rebounds and three assists. He was clutch early and often, especially from the free-throw line where Lewis was 8-for-9.
"The other day me and coach sat down," Lewis said. "We just looked at the shots I've been taking. You know, he just said 'Get better shots, be aggressive and if the defense come over spread out and they don't, just make a good play.' And that's what I did tonight."
A solid first half on both fronts for Alabama had the Crimson Tide jump out in front early. Junior forward Alex Reese propelled the offense with 10 early points and the entire team seemed to feed off of his energy.
Auburn wasn't quite so successful in the first half, committing 12 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. The Crimson Tide capitalized on the turnovers, converting them into 11 points. It seemed like everything that the Tigers presented, the Crimson Tide had an answer.
Enter freshman forward Isaac Okoro for Auburn. In the first half, Okoro was able to run circles around Alabama at its defensive end of the court, scoring 12 points in the first half. Okoro remained almost unchecked by the Crimson Tide in the paint, putting up three layups and a dunk.
Despite Alabama seemingly being unable to stop Okoro, the Crimson Tide led 36-27 at the half.
Auburn came out of the gate swinging, to start half number two, cutting the Alabama lead back down to two points at the 14:49 mark. However, nine second-half turnovers for the Tigers shifted the momentum back to Alabama, and Auburn was never able to fully recover.
After Okoro was able to nearly score at will in the first half, Alabama had formed a game plan to stop him during the halftime break. He was held to just one point in the final 20 minutes. The containment by the Alabama defense was one of the key reasons why the Crimson Tide was able to pull away.
"I thought we were more blue-collar than [they were] and that's a hard-playing team," Oats said. "Coach [Bruce] Pearl does a really good job getting them to play hard. That's kind of what they've hung their hat on so I thought we — you know — they were trying to match our intensity from the beginning in my opinion so that's what we want to do."
The Crimson Tide upset the Tigers 83-64, with the team storming the court to the deafening cheers of the sell-out home crowd.
In addition to Lewis having a solid outing, junior guard Herbert Jones also impressed, earning his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Jones gives all of the credit to his head coach.
"[Oats has instilled] just being tough," Jones said. "Playing with max effort the entire 40 minutes or however long the game is. Just being very tough and doing all the little things. Pay attention to the small details and knowing it'll come together at the end.
Along with Jones, Reese also finished his night in double-digits with 13 points while graduate-student guard James 'Beetle' Bolden finished with 11 points.
For Auburn, three players were able to hit double-digit points, led by Okoro with 13 points.
Senior center Austin Wiley earned a double-double of his own, registering 10 points and 13 rebounds. Redshirt Jamal Johnson was the final Auburn player to score double digits with 10.
With the win, Alabama moves to 9-7 overall and is 2-2 in the SEC. Auburn drops to 15-1 and is 3-1 in the conference.
Up next for Alabama basketball is the second half of its two-game home stand, where the Crimson Tide will take on Missouri Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network).