Auburn rallies to beat Alabama

Published 10:33 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TUSCALOOSA — The Auburn Tigers had plenty of cause to celebrate: An SEC tournament bye, a 20-win season — and an impressive comeback win over rival Alabama.

Korvotney Barber had 13 points and 16 rebounds and Frankie Sullivan hit an off-balance shot with 11 seconds left to cap Auburn’s 77-73 win Tuesday night after rallying from a 13-point deficit in the final 15 minutes.

The Tigers (20-10, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) clinched a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in next week’s league tournament with the win, their sixth in seven games.

“At the end we showed some grit, we showed some toughness,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “We made a lot of plays down the stretch. Just a great win for our kids. I’ve never seen them so happy after a win.”

The means might have had as much to do with that as the result.

Alabama (16-13, 6-9) couldn’t push its winning streak to four games despite a 52-39 lead.

Barber’s tip-in with 55 seconds left gave Auburn the lead and Senario Hillman missed a shot at the other end to set up Sullivan’s clinching basket over Mikhail Torrance. The Tigers had played keepaway with the ball until his shot fell with 1 second on the shot clock.

“I saw the (shot) clock was winding down,” Sullivan said. “Then I saw the lane open and I took it to the hole.”

Alabama interim coach Philip Pearson had opted not to foul as the clock wound down.

“I looked up and I think there was about a 9- or 10-second difference,” Pearson said. “They had been making their foul shots. They had some pretty good foul shooters out there on the floor. We didn’t have any timeouts. I was hoping we’d get one stop and come back and get an easy basket. It didn’t work out that way, obviously.”

The Tigers had caught up with a 12-2 run and took their first lead since the opening minutes with an even bigger spurt. Layups by DeWayne Reed and Tay Waller capped an 18-2 stretch and put Auburn ahead 69-61 entering the final 5 minutes.

Andrew Steele later tied the game at 73 with an open 3-pointer off a pass from Torrance with 1:09 left, but the Crimson Tide couldn’t score again. Alabama made just 15 of 29 free throws.

Auburn completed its second regular-season sweep of its in-state rival in three years. The Tigers also reached their most SEC wins since 2000 and only their ninth 20-win season.

“We just told each other we’ve just got to grind,” said Rasheem Barrett, whose 15 points led five Auburn players in double figures. “We’ve been here before. Just man up and do what we’ve got to do to win, and that’s what we did.”

Reed added 13, Waller 11 and Lucas Hargrove scored 10 points for the Tigers before fouling out with 1:55 left. Sullivan had eight points.

Alonzo Gee led Alabama with 17 points and eight rebounds in his final home game. JaMychal Green added 16 points and eight boards while Torrance had 12 points and seven assists.

The Tigers shot 30 percent in the first half and 64 percent in the second, when they also made 5 of 9 3-pointers

“Offensively, the first half we were terrible,” Lebo said. “We took bad shots, we fouled way too much.”

The Tide led 39-29 at halftime and it could have been an even greater margin if the team hadn’t made just 10 of 20 free throws. Alabama got half of its points from the line during a 14-2 run to break open a tie game.

“Had we made some more free throws, we could have had a 14- or 15-point lead,” Pearson said. “That was a missed opportunity for us.”

Auburn also had foul trouble among big men Barber and Brendon Knox, leading Lebo to insert Francis Ahe for 4 minutes, double what he had played in the previous 14 SEC games.