TUSCALOOSA — Auburn never shook itself from the nightmare.
Reality hit the Tigers when the clock ticked down. They hung their heads as the Tide rejoiced.
Auburn’s undefeated season is no more, derailed Wednesday night in an 83-64 loss at rival Alabama — the winning streak gone up in smoke in the last place Auburn ever wanted it to end.
Auburn fell to 15-1, and 3-1 in the SEC, in the worst way it could imagine.
Auburn played poorly. Its weaknesses were exposed. Auburn never led in sold-out Coleman Coliseum. Auburn gave away the most turnovers it’s given up all season, gave up a season-worst in points allowed, and got run around the floor by a rival team that barely had a winning record coming in. Auburn’s comeback bid in the final 10 minutes never really got the Tigers close.
Alabama moved to 9-7 on the season and 2-2 in the SEC.
And on a somber ride back to the Plains, Auburn knew it would tumble from its No. 4 ranking, and surely knew it would have to work to rebound after a disaster night in Tuscaloosa.
“This is a tough one,” Auburn senior center said Austin Wiley, after the game and after the packed arena emptied. Alabama announced the rivalry game was a sellout on Wednesday before tipoff, the Auburn fans making noise in pockets helping pack the building. “That probably hurts the most that, I think Coach said, like 1,000-plus fans traveled to see us play, and the way we played wasn’t good at all,” Wiley went on.
“We’ve just got to play better for them.”
Auburn trailed by nine at the half and cut an 11-point second-half lead for Alabama down to two points in the first four minutes out of the locker room, but Alabama charged right back as Coleman Coliseum erupted again. When Jamal Johnson hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game at 50-47 with 11:20 left, Alabama powered back again to go back up by eight and then, after an Auburn free throw, by 11, using a 9-1 run over the next four minutes.
Auburn never looked like a No. 4 team in Tuscaloosa.
Kira Lewis led Alabama with 23 points. Auburn’s freshman Isaac Okoro scored a team-high 13 points as most of the team’s seniors struggled. Wiley recorded a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
“We didn’t do what we’re supposed to do,” Wiley said. “I’ll take part of that blame. Most of it. I didn’t get my guys ready to play like we were supposed to. I didn’t play good at all and we’ve just got to take accountability and play better.”
Auburn hit just 20 of 63 shots from the field.
The 21 turnovers Auburn tied the team’s mark for the worst total in a game this season.
“To be able to beat a good team in Alabama on their home floor, you’ve got to play very good. We didn’t even come close,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said.
“We battled back and got it within two in the second half. If we’d have come back, we’d have stole it, because we weren’t playing well,” he went on.
Auburn trailed 36-27 at the half after playing seemingly shaken the first 20 minutes.
Auburn missed its first 10 3-pointers. The Tigers didn’t hit a shot in a drought lasting more than nine minutes. When Auburn trailed 20-11, Auburn had half as many turnovers as it did total shots — with nine turnovers to 18 actual field goal attempts. Auburn finished the half with 12 turnovers, after entering recording 12 or less than eight of its full games this season.
Shots clanked off the rim. Put-backs under the rim bounced wide. A lob attempt sailed way overhead and out of bounds, and Pearl was called for a coaches’ box warning to the delight of the Alabama fans. So much went wrong.
And in the second half, Auburn never had enough to stop the embarrassment.
“I’m very proud of my team for winning our first 15 games,” Pearl said. “I think you can see why I’ve been saying that we’re a good team, and I’ve yet to say that we’re a very good team yet.”
Auburn will look to rebound on Saturday on the road at Florida. The game is set for a 12:30 p.m. tipoff and it’s scheduled to be televised on CBS.