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January 30, 2014

Winning formula


AUBURN | The streak has ended.

The clocked ticked to zero and the crowd danced and sang, but Auburn's basketball team remained composed until it finished the shaking the hands of the team it just defeated.

Then the Tigers began to celebrate.

For the first time since Feb. 6 of last year -- a run of 17 Southeastern Conference games -- Auburn defeated a league opponent as it dominated Alabama, 74-55. Afterward, players sprinted across the court to join in the celebration with the student section that had waited so long for this victory.

Exactly two months after Chris Davis ran Auburn's football team past Alabama and into the SEC Championship, Auburn's basketball team put on a show of its own.

This time, the game was not decided by one play. Instead Auburn dominated the Crimson Tide (9-11, 3-4) for 40 minutes behind a 55-point collaboration between KT Harrell and Chris Denson.

The nation's No. 9 scoring tandem pushed the Tigers out to 12-0 lead and they never looked back.

Coach Tony Barbee kept saying the breakthrough would happen.

This time it did.

"It was a good time to have a game where both of those guys are going," Barbee said. "They're the catalyst on this team."

After scoring only six points on 3-of-7 shooting from the floor in the first half, Denson took command of the offense during the second and wound up with a career high 32 points.

Harrell added 23 of his own, but putting up points hasn't been the problem for Auburn. It had been giving them up.

"We had to start winning the paint," Barbee said of his team's defense. "That is the key to this team."

Auburn did just that as Asauhn Dixon-Tatum opened the first half with three blocks while Denson and Harrell combined for 18 rebounds.

At halftime, Auburn Arena revisited the glory of the Tigers' Iron Bowl victory with a replay of Davis' Kick Six and the presentation of the ODK Sportsman Trophy to Gus Malzahn and his team. On the court, the Auburn men's basketball team was reliving its own past triumph.

Last season, Auburn had a six game losing streak going into its Feb. 6 match against Alabama. The team beat the Crimson Tide to snap the streak but failed to win another conference game after that.

Until tonight.

"It's indescribable really," Denson said after the game. "To get our first win in SEC play after the struggles we had to start. That's big for us. We ran over to that crowd and they were here all night. We appreciate The Jungle."

Center Matthew Atewe added three blocks of his own in 18 minutes off the bench.

Trevor Releford led Alabama with 15 points.

The Tigers (9-9, 1-6) resume play Saturday at home against Georgia.

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