Energized Tigers take down Alabama

AUBURN – Shot after shot bounced away, and the frustration mounted. Auburn’s basketball team, mired in a six-game losing streak, simply could not put the ball in the basket.

Cam Newton leads cheers as Auburn rallies to beat Alabama/Todd Van Emst photos

In a maddening first half, the Tigers made just three field goals. They trailed by as many as 13 points and trailed Alabama 23-13 at halftime. They shot 13 percent the first half. Unlucky 13’s.

But as the second half unfolded at Auburn Arena, something changed. The student section, affectionately known as the Jungle, wouldn’t quit. Then the star of stars showed up. Former Heisman Trophy winner and national championship quarterback Cam Newton joined the students, megaphone in hand, leading cheers.

The noise reverberated throughout the building. And Tony Barbee’s third Auburn team came storming back to end a five-game drought against Alabama. Suddenly, Auburn was the aggressor and the baskets seemed to close upon Alabama. The Tide, winner of six of its last seven, went 9:19 without a point and the Tigers opened the half of a 20-3 sprint.

And a team that looked so lost in the first half ran away to a 49-37 victory that surely will be with those who made it happen for a long, long time.

As point guard Josh Wallace dribbled away the final seconds, junior Allen Payne ran to the student section to celebrate.

“I got chills,” Payne said. “I’m not going to lie. At the end, when the clock was going down and Josh had the ball. How it felt to beat Alabama for the first time for us, for Coach. It was just a great night000 all-around.”

Payne had a message for the students.

“You guys did this,” he yelled. “You guys helped us win.” And they got ever louder.

“There’s nothing like the Jungle,” Wallace said.

Payne said he saw Newton leading cheers. Barbee and Wallace said they didn’t know he was there. They all heard the noise.

At halftime, Barbee told his team they were playing well enough to win. They just weren’t shooting well enough. He told them to keep defending, to attack Alabama’s press. And they did. As a result, in the second half, they hit 12-of-21 shots for 57.1 percent. They won the rebounding battle. They scored 21 points off turnovers to Alabama’s seven.

“We didn’t let our offensive struggles affect our defense, and we have been doing that,” Barbee said. “We have been struggling offensively and letting go of the rope defensively. That’s why teams have probably shot around 55 percent on us the last four or five games. That’s not a recipe for winning.

“Tonight, we continued to guard. We continued to grind defensively. We played tough on the backboard. We outrebounded them in the second half.”

In the second half, Wallace beat Alabama’s press with ease. Averaging just 3.6 points per game, he scored 11, all in the second half. Payne also scored 11, 9 in the second half. Though leading scorer Frankie Sullivan was a dreadful 1-for-13 from the floor, Barbee said he was a force on the defensive end.

“Their press affects a lot of people, but Josh Wallace is really hard to bottle up,” Barbee said. “00It didn’t bother us the first half, but we weren’t aggressive against it.”

They got aggressive in the second half, outscoring Alabama 36-14. The 37 points was the fewest Alabama has ever scored against Auburn the fewest by either team since 1949.

Auburn improved to 9-13 overall and 3-8 in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers play at Kentucky on Saturday. Alabama fell to 14-8 and 6-3.

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