Waller shoots Auburn past Alabama
AUBURN — DeWayne Reed hit Auburn’s first 3-pointer a minute into the game, and Tay Waller followed shortly with two more.
The Tigers finally found their shooting touch from outside on Saturday against Alabama, racing to a big lead and a season-high for points in an 85-71 victory.
Waller matched his career-high with 22 points and hit six 3-pointers, Reed added 19 points and Korvotney Barber had 18 for Auburn (11-6, 1-2 Southeastern Conference). The Tigers made half of their 20 3-point attempts after hitting just 27 percent over the previous four games and going 5-for-27 in a loss to Florida.
“When you make shots, it’s contagious,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “When you miss them, it’s the same way.”
Waller was 6 of 8 from beyond the arc, after attempting the same number of 3s against the Gators and making only one of them. The junior college transfer made four in the opening eight minutes to help Auburn open a quick 17-point lead.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had a good game,” Waller said. “It felt good. Coach told us to run them and push the ball. He said take good shots. When I got them, I thought they were good shots so I shot them.”
Auburn has won four of the last five meetings with the Tide.
Mikhail Torrance led Alabama with 24 points for his second straight career-high off the bench with point guard Ron Steele missing the past two games with a foot injury. But the Tide still looked discombobulated at times without Steele, committing 20 turnovers and managing just six assists and two 3-pointers.
The Tide had cut the early 17-point deficit down to 42-37 with the opening basket of the second half. Then Auburn went on a 19-2 run to turn it into a route, capped by six straight points from Reed.
“We just had some mental breakdowns on defense,” said Torrance, who scored 20 in a loss at Mississippi State. “We just had that lapse in the second half after we cut it to five. We can’t do that and expect to win.
“When you’re on the road, you know they’re going to have runs. You’ve just got to get a stop.”
Leading scorer Alonzo Gee made just 2 of 12 shots and scored 10 points for the Tide, most of them when the game was all but decided. JaMychal Green, who picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, and Justin Knox had 10 points apiece for Alabama.
Senario Hillman had seven turnovers and Torrance six for the struggling backcourt. Tide coach Mark Gottfried’s biggest concern, though, was stopping the Tigers. They shot 49 percent and had assists on 22 of 30 baskets.
“They made some tough shots and they made a lot of them,” Gottfried said. “I do think we could have defended them better. We’ve got to get better defensively, but at the same time I thought they had one of those games where they seemed flawless.
“They did well and we seemed to be out of synch and struggled. That happens sometimes.”
This one was ugly from the outset for the Tide without its floor leader, Steele.
The Tigers scored 13 consecutive points to take a 23-6 lead just 5 minutes into the game. They outscored Alabama during that time with one seven-point sequence.
Reed had a steal and layup, and Torrance was called for an intentional foul on the play. Reed then made two free throws and Auburn kept the ball, setting up Waller’s 3-pointer.
Auburn made 15 of 21 free throws after making less than 50 percent from the line against the Gators in a 68-65 loss.
“I thought the kids got off to a good start and we didn’t have any stretches where we missed a lot in a row,” Lebo said. “We had a couple of stretches tonight finally offensively where we made a couple in a row. When you can score, it’s like giving energy tablets on the other end and we did a good job of putting the ball in the bucket.”
The Tigers also didn’t have much trouble finding open shots.
“Offensively, we probably scored enough to win,” Gottfried said. “But you’re not going to win when we give up 85. We’ve got to get our consistency back on the other end.”