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February 24, 2007
Auburn slams Bama to sweep series
Quan Prowell and Auburn weren't letting a case of pinkeye spoil a rare chance to sweep their biggest rival.
Prowell woke Saturday morning with one eye nearly swollen shut, but still made three second-half 3-pointers and scored 17 points to lead the Tigers to an 86-77 victory over No. 25 Alabama on Saturday.
It was the ailing Crimson Tide's fourth loss in five games, and gave Auburn (16-13, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) its first season sweep in the rivalry since 1999.
In fact, the Tigers hadn't even won at Coleman Coliseum since then.
"It's fun to just win a game, but it's even bigger when it's one of your rivals and you go in their house and beat them," Auburn's Frank Tolbert said.
The Tigers led by as many as 18 points in the second half, didn't trail over the final 33 minutes and hit 14-of-18 free throws over the last 1:39 to counter a Tide rally.
The loss will almost certainly send Alabama (19-9, 6-8) -- mostly playing without hobbled point guard Ronald Steele -- tumbling from the Associated Press rankings for the first time this season after rising as high as No. 4 in December. The Tide's second straight defeat was also another blow to the team's NCAA tournament hopes.
"The name of the game today was our inability to defend anybody," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "That's been the case too many times with our team this year."
Auburn shot 54 percent and has two straight wins since ending a four-game losing streak.
The Tigers took a 68-50 lead with 7:46 left on Prowell's third 3-pointer of the half before Alabama finally showed some life.
Mykal Riley's 3-pointer sparked an 11-0 run to bring the Tide back into the game, and a few minutes later Alonzo Gee's 3 made it 74-68 with 1:28 remaining.
Then, the Tigers completed their season sweep with a steady stream of free throws, while most of the home fans cleared out of the arena after only the team's second home loss.
It was Auburn's first road win over a ranked opponent in three years.
Steele played the first two minutes before heading to the bench with two sore knees. He returned briefly in the second half to hit two free throws while subbing for a shaken-up Demetrius Jemison.
"Three or four minutes into the game it was obvious he couldn't run very well and wasn't very effective," Gottfried said. "I asked him how he felt and he said, 'I just don't think I can help the team.'"
It meant the Tide played much of the game with three freshman guards, and most of the starters struggled without Steele feeding them the ball.
"I'm not sure today that our team believed we could win without Ron," Gottfried said. "That may have been more of an issue than anything."
Alabama also had no luck defending Prowell and forward Korvotney Barber.
Prowell scored 15 second-half points and made 7 of 8 shots.
"I told him he might shoot better with one eye," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said.
Barber, meanwhile, did most of his damage inside against bigger Tide post players. He also scored 17 points, hitting 6 of 8 shots and grabbing 10 rebounds. Tolbert added 12 points and Josh Dollard 10.
"Korvotney Barber was terrific around the basket with his quickness," Lebo said. "We passed the ball very well. We used our quickness against Alabama's size."
It didn't damper Auburn's mood that Prowell, Tolbert and Dollard fouled out.
Richard Hendrix led Alabama with 17 points and 13 rebounds, including several offensive boards during the aborted comeback, though Gottfried said he wasn't feeling well.
Freshman Mikhail Torrance had 14 points and Riley and Jermareo Davidson added 13. Gee, who had made only one field goal in his previous two games, finished with 12 points -- most after the game was decided. He was 3-for-10 shooting.
Steele said he expects to play in the final two games against Mississippi and Mississippi State, both teams in the mix for the Western Division title.
"I'm in a lot of pain, but I'll be ready to go Wednesday," Steele said. "That's an important game for us. Whatever it takes, even if I have to spend the night in the training room."
The Tigers opened the second half on a 23-10 run, pushing a four-point halftime edge to a 61-44 lead with 12:47 left. The 6-foot-8 Prowell hit three 3-pointers during that stretch.
"He makes us a different team because he can shoot the ball from the perimeter," Lebo said.