Alabama basketball's thrilling rally falls short in 81-77 loss to Auburn

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

Almost 35 years had passed since Alabama and Auburn faced each other in men's basketball with both ranked in the AP Top 25. That changed Tuesday.

And the game met the hype. 

The No. 4 Tigers looked primed for a comfortable double-digit victory midway through the second half, then No. 24 Alabama marched back. 

The Crimson Tide rallied and forced a game that was decided in the final minute. 

But Auburn outlasted the Crimson Tide 81-77 on Tuesday at Coleman Coliseum. The two teams will face each other again on Feb. 1 in Auburn. 

Here are takeaways and observations from the game between Alabama (11-5, 2-2 SEC) and Auburn (15-1, 4-0). 

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Alabama heats up from deep late but can't finish

For Alabama to have a shot at beating Auburn, the Crimson Tide was going to need to find some success from beyond the arc. Auburn, with its bigs, had the advantage in the paint. 

Alabama struggled early from deep. Really, for much of the game. Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford and Keon Ellis, Alabama's most productive 3-point shooters, couldn't find a way to heat up when shooting threes for a good period of time. 

At one point midway through the second half, those three had only hit a couple combined. 

Then, when it looked as if Auburn could run away with it, holding a 14-point lead in the fourth, Alabama struck. 

Quinerly and Shackelford each hit threes to bring Alabama within 73-66 with just over six minutes left. 

After a dunk from freshman JD Davison, Shackelford followed with another 3-pointer to bring Alabama within 73-71 with 4:48 left. 

Still, the Crimson Tide couldn't quite finish late, needing one or two more big 3-point baskets as Auburn held on for the win. 

In the final minute, Quinerly had an open look from deep but decided to drive instead and couldn't make the layup as the Auburn defense made a play. 

Allen Flanigan hits clutch free-throws late for Auburn

Entering Tuesday's game, Flanigan was tied for eighth among his teammates in free-throw percentage at .625. But he became the free-throw hero for the Tigers. 

The Tigers needed him to step up with the game tied in the final minutes. He had a chance to hit four, and he hit all four in the final minute to cap off Auburn's 81-point day. 

Auburn's Jabari Smith as advertised

Alabama saw first-hand the reason why Smith is making the case to be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft

Smith finished the day with 25 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. 

Whether he was blocking shots, scoring baskets or drawing fouls, Smith found ways to influence the game in Auburn's favor throughout. 

Early in the game, Smith drew back-to-back fouls on Juwan Gary, who ended up having three fouls before the end of the first half. 

Two series early in the first half showed how influential and dominant Smith could be. With about nine minutes left in the first half, he first drew a foul off a layup and made the free throw. 

Then, on the ensuing Alabama possession, Smith blocked a layup attempt from Quinerly, grabbed the rebound and scored another basket. 

Smith continued his efforts in the second half. Alabama continued to try to use Gary to guard him at times, but Gary picked up his fourth foul early in the second half while once again trying to defend Smith. 

Noah Gurley remains consistent contributor on offense

The graduate transfer continues to do well for himself in SEC play. 

He's not flashy, but he makes solid contributions. He entered the game against Auburn averaging 10.7 points and 4.3 rebounds across the first three SEC games. 

Gurley had another double-digit scoring day on Tuesday. 

He hit two free throws to tie the game at 77-77 in the final 90 seconds. 

Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly