January 22, 2011 10:58:00 PM
AUBURN, Ala. -- University of Alabama men''s basketball coach Anthony Grant sensed a "perfect storm" brewing for his team, but they navigated it just fine.
Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green each scored 15 points and the Crimson Tide pulled away for a 68-58 victory against Auburn on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 9,121 fans stirred up by a preceding celebration of the football national championship.
The Tide (12-7, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) was also coming off an upset of No. 12 Kentucky.
"I felt like this win was really a character win, because of the emotion coming off Tuesday night," Grant said. "You''ve got so many distractions and people patting you on the back with that win. To come back in another emotional game with all this going on ... When I talk about a perfect storm, that''s part of it."
Alabama weathered it by making 15 of 17 free throws over the final 2 minuts, 14 seconds and clamping down defensively, forcing Auburn to turn it into a foul-line marathon.
The Tigers (7-12, 0-5) went 4:22 without a basket before Earnest Ross hit a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left to end a string of seven straight misses. Ross made two free throws to cut the margin to six points, but Alabama iced it at the line.
"It is what it is. We can''t score," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "I thought we played hard, I thought we played tough. We battled our tails off. We outrebounded a really good rebounding team and did a lot of things well. But we can''t score. Theme of the year."
Alabama has now won seven of its last eight games. The Tide forced 21 turnovers and controlled the game defensively at the end.
"We just locked in," Green said. "Starting off the game, we weren''t doing what we were supposed to do on the defensive end. Down the stretch we did what we had to do to get the win."
Trevor Releford and Senario Hillman scored 10 points apiece for the Tide and many of them came at the line, where Alabama went 24 of 30. That made up for a 4-of-20 performance from 3-point range.
Chris Hines added eight points and five of the team''s 15 steals. Mitchell had sent Alabama into halftime on top 29-27 with a 3-pointer with three seconds left.
Ross led Auburn with 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists while Kenny Gabriel added 11 points. The league''s lowest scoring team at least topped its 40 points from a five-point loss to Florida two days earlier despite facing a defense giving up the nation''s third-lowest field goal percentage and ranked seventh in points allowed.
But the Tigers once again struggled to score after keeping the game close most of the way.
"All the defensive stops we get, we have to convert that on the offensive end by scoring the ball," Ross said. "Tonight we didn''t have enough guys scoring the ball, which made it tough to keep up with them, because every time they scored, it made it tough on our offense, and we weren''t converting. But when we get a chance to make plays, make plays. And we didn''t have enough people to make plays tonight."
Auburn couldn''t take advantage of Green''s foul trouble after he went to the bench with his fourth with 9:25 remaining.
The Tide was unable to push its second-half lead past three points until Releford''s 3-pointer made it 51-47 with 6:21 left.
Alabama pushed it into double digits, at 61-51, on Releford''s two free throws with 56 seconds left. Ross hit a 3-pointer and two free throws down the stetch for Auburn, but the Tide kept making its foul shots.
The sellout crowd did get plenty to cheer about at halftime, when the ODK Trophy given to the winner of the Iron Bowl was presented to coach Gene Chizk and the football team.
"The crowd was electric," Barbee said. "I don''t need them here for just the Alabama game. That''s the obvious one. If we''re going to make this a Top 20 program in the country, they come to every game, regardless of who you''re playing."