AUBURN — Not one person crammed inside an all-orange Auburn Arena on Wednesday night thought they would be here again. Not after their No. 11-ranked Tigers scored the game's first 16 points to open up a commanding lead. Not with revenge for an earlier loss against rival Alabama on the mind.
But maybe overtime is simply where Auburn is the most comfortable. After all, Wednesday's game marked the fourth in the last five (and third straight) that couldn't be decided in regulation. First, it was Ole Miss. Then Arkansas and LSU. Now, Alabama.
And somehow, some way, Bruce Pearl's team has won all of them.
On Wednesday, it was 95-91. The first meeting between the two teams on Jan. 15 was a 19-point Crimson Tide blowout. The second looked a lot like the Iron Bowl the two teams played across the street at Jordan-Hare Stadium 73 days ago — two frenetic teams trading haymakers until the final buzzer sounded.
Maybe it's fitting that the Foy-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy was awarded to Gus Malzahn's Auburn football team at halftime.
"You know typically when you play Alabama, it’s really all about the rivalry, it’s all about Auburn-Alabama, it’s about the Iron Bowl, it’s about two schools in the state that compete," Pearl said. "This one wasn’t about that. We never felt it, still don’t feel it. It was about Auburn trying to stay alive in a championship race, our rival with an opportunity to really take us out of it by beating us, which would have been twice."
Alabama (13-11, 5-6 SEC) never led in its bid for a season sweep, but it gave the home team everything it could handle. The Tigers (22-2, 9-2) led by 10 points after a Devan Cambridge 3-pointer with 6:10 remaining. A trio of made 3-pointers from Jaden Shackelford and Kira Lewis Jr. over the next two-plus minutes brought the Crimson Tide within one point with 3:58 left to play.
Neither team hit another field goal until John Petty Jr. tied the game with a 3 with 14 seconds remaining. Auburn missed eight shot attempts and 4 of 6 free throw attempts over the final 4:27 of regulation. And won.
Samir Doughty, Austin Wiley, and J'Von McCormick got the Tigers off to an 8-0 run to start the overtime period. The Crimson Tide fought back with three more 3-pointers to make it a two-point game with 23 seconds remaining, but McCormick was able to sink two clutch free throws to put the game away late.
"I guess a lot of credit to (strength and conditioning coach Damon Davis)," Doughty said. "We put in a lot of work during the summertime, and I feel like when we're in overtime, that's always advantage: Us, despite our opponent, because we put in a lot of work in the offseason. We're built for moments like that."
Here are three takeaways:
3-point line nearly cost Auburn a win
There's no question that the 3-point arc was the key to Auburn's come-from-behind victory over LSU this past Saturday. McCormick made three shots from deep in the span of less than a minute late in regulation, and Doughty and Cambridge combined to hit three more at the start of the overtime period.
Alabama simply relied on 3-pointers, as it went just 8 of 25 on two-point shots in 45 minutes.
Beyond the arc, though, the Crimson Tide made 22 of 59 attempts. Both totals set new single-game SEC records. It didn't seem to matter whether the Tigers were playing man defense or zone — the shots kept falling.
"Hard to play them man-to-man because we were so much bigger and they were so much smaller. They spread us and shot us so we played a lot of zone," Pearl said. "Overall, we could’ve done a better job of getting out there, contesting a little bit, making them put the ball down on the floor a little bit, extend a little bit harder."
Shackelford hit 7 of 17 attempts from deep on his way to 28 points, Petty hit 6 of 11 on his way to 20, and James Bolden and Jaylen Forbes hit three each. Lewis hit only one, but he recorded the third triple-double in Alabama history with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists to just one turnover in 45 minutes.
Auburn dominated inside, outscoring Alabama 44-14 in the paint and outrebounding the visitors 60-44, but made only 7 of 31 3-pointers.
Okoro was a force until injury
The first time these two teams met, the standout freshman wing was the only bright spot in the first half — he scored 12 of the team's 27 points — but almost completely silent in the second, scoring only one point and missing all five of his field goal attempts in the loss.
That wasn't the case in the rematch. Okoro scored seven points on 2-for-5 shooting in the first half, but the Tigers clearly saw a matchup they liked with him. So they went to him over and over during the final 20 minutes,.
He more than delivered — Okoro scored 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the second half. He finished the game with a team-leading 19 points to go along with nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.
But the torrid start to did not lead to a happy end. Auburn won the game, but Okoro went down hard and grabbed his right leg in pain as he was chasing down a loose ball with a little less than two minutes remaining in regulation. He had to be helped to the locker room by the team's medical personnel and did not return.
"He's got a hamstring pull, and it will be evaluated (Thursday)," Pearl said. "Don't think it's anything structural. But Isaac, if you've ever seen Isaac's legs, I can't imagine the size of that hamstring. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. But I would just venture to say that it would take a lot, not only to injure him but also to keep him out. So if he is out, it's because he absolutely can't go. He's just such a tough kid."
Wiley/McLemore combo can be scary good
We've known this matchup-nightmare potential all season. Wiley is a 6-foot-11 behemoth, a true back-to-the-basket, post-up interior player. McLemore is a springy, 6-foot-7 stretch five. Both are tremendous defenders and do completely different things on offense.
But it doesn't always hit. Wiley double-doubled his last time out against LSU, but McLemore dealt with foul trouble and finished scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting.
Wednesday against Alabama, though, is a perfect example of how dangerous it can be for opponents when both are on at the same time. Alabama didn't have an answer for either.
McLemore started in place of Danjel Purifoy (who has been dealing with the flu but did play Wednesday) for the second straight game and provided an immediate spark, hitting a pair of 3-pointers on his way to scoring the Tigers' first eight points. He finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
And while his counterpart was doing most of his damage outside, Wiley dominated on the inside. He scored 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting, pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds (eight offensive) and blocked a career-high-tying five shots.
"He wanted the ball and I thought we did a better job of getting it to him and he did a great job of finishing," Pearl said.