Auburn surrendered its 17-point lead, lost Johni Broome to foul trouble and Dylan Cardwell to an injury, and still, the Tigers had a chance to win against Alabama in regulation. The 10-point underdogs had given the No. 2 team in the country everything they could muster as the 17-point lead evaporated behind a 16-0 Crimson Tide (26-4, 15-1 SEC) run.
“To come in here and play the best team in the country, to play so well, to play so hard,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I thought we represented the name on the front of our jersey as well as the name on the back.”
After a defensive stop, the ball went to Wendell Green Jr. Green had shot just 2-of-8 on the night, with only one shot attempt in the first, but a clutch three barely a minute earlier had kept Auburn in the game. Green got a look, but the shot was off the mark, and the game headed to overtime.
“We just ran a middle ball screen, and he had a chance to get a shot, he had a pretty clean look,” Pearl said of Green’s shot near the end of regulation. “[If] It goes in, we’re celebrating.” Green finished the game with nine points on 2-of-20 shooting from the floor.
Alabama took over from there, Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan fouled out, and Auburn was swept by Alabama, falling in Tuscaloosa 90-85.
Auburn was kept in the game by one of the best performances from its bench, led by K.D. Johnson. Johnson had 21 points, but the bench scored 34, which included a solid seven points from Tre Donaldson in the first half.
“I thought the bench was terrific; I thought Tre Donaldson stepped up,” Pearl said. “You know K.D. is an athlete; he’s hard to stay in front of.”
After scoring a combined 16 in the first half, the duo shot just one-of-four from the field in the second half, and Donaldson played only five second-half minutes.
The turning point of the contest came with 7:31 remaining in the game. Johni Broome committed his fifth foul, sending the sophomore forward to the bench.
Broome was solid enough in 24 minutes of action, with 10 points, five boards and four assists. His exit coincided with the ejections of Rylan Griffen and Charles Bediako leaving the bench, and Auburn would miss their big man down the stretch.
“Johni Broome was +10 on the night,” Pearl said. “Probably shoots the fewest number of free throws of any center in the league. And he’s in foul trouble pretty much every game.”
While Auburn led by eight when Broome left the game, Alabama continued to trim the lead and finished outscoring the Tigers 32-19 and ultimately winning.
In the end, it was another opportunity to boost the NCAA Tournament resume, but it ended in another heartbreaking defeat.
“When you lose as many tough last-possession games as we do,” Pearl said. “Our guys have been through a lot. Man, I don’t know if I’ve had this many close losses against good teams.”
Auburn will have to regroup again, winners of just three of its last eight, and look to send the senior class out with a win over the No. 3 team in NET. The Tigers take on the No. 12 Tennessee Volunteers (22-8, 11-6 SEC) in a Saturday afternoon clash. The game is scheduled to tip off from Neville Arena at 1 p.m. CST, and will be broadcast on ESPN.
Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.