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Postgame interviews Auburn hammers Crimson Tide in top20 matchup

Nathan King

~4 minutes

AUBURN, Alabama—In a game of runs it was the No. 11 Auburn Tigers that made the plays as Bruce Pearl’s team got a career-high 26 points from Jaylin Williams and 24 from Johni Broome as they dominated in the paint in a 99-81 victory. With the win Auburn improves to 19-4 overall and 8-2 in SEC play. Alabama falls to 16-7 overall and 8-2 in league action.

A huge key for the Tigers was the ability to get the ball to the basket and finish. Auburn had 40 points in the paint and outscored the Crimson Tide 26-8 in fast break points to put the pressure on. Pair that with a strong defensive effort by the Tigers that led to 13 steals and 11 blocks and you have a massive victory that puts Auburn in a tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference at the halfway mark of league play.

Guards Tre Donaldson and Chad Baker-Mazara scored 14 and 13 points respectively and added six rebounds each as the Tigers cleaned up on the boards, finishing with a 42-35 advantage.

In a game with 61 combined fouls called, Auburn's ability to score at the free throw line was a key part of the victory. The Tigers knocked down 40-50 free throws while Alabama made 28-35. Mark Sears was the recipient of many of those, going 12-13 and finished with 25 points to lead Alabama.

It was a breakneck pace to start Wednesday night’s game at Neville Arena as both Auburn and Alabama came out on fire shooting the basketball. With Donaldson knocking down three mid-range jumpers in the first three minutes and Alabama getting three-pointers by Rylan Griffin and Aaron Estrada, it was a 15-14 game after just five minutes before a three by Aden Holloway gave Auburn a two-point lead. Over the next five minutes the Tigers would outscore Alabama 17-3 to build a 14-point lead on two free throws from Williams.

That’s when Alabama would make its run, outscoring Auburn 19-4 in six minutes to take the lead back 37-36. With the score tied at 39 with 3:44 left in the first half, the Tigers finished with a flourish. A pair of Broome free throws got them started and from there it was off to the races. Following an offensive rebound, a Broome three from the top of the key blew the roof off the place as Auburn built the lead to 10 before a pair of Sears free throws gave Alabama their only points down the stretch. A pair of Broome baskets in the paint put Auburn up 12 and Williams finished off a wild first half with a windmill dunk to give Pearl’s team a 14-point advantage at the break.

Auburn picked up where it left off to start the second half by pushing the ball into the paint with Williams and Broome going off to push the lead to 20 at 70-50 with just over 13 minutes left. With the Tigers taking some ill-advised shots early in the clock, Alabama was able to cut into the lead over the next five minutes with a Nelson three making the score 79-67 Auburn with just over seven minutes left.

In a game of runs, it was the Tigers that would put the hammer down to knock the Crimson Tide out. A pair of free throws by Dylan Cardwell got things started and the Tigers would continue to make Alabama pay at the line. When Denver Jones knocked down a pair of free throws with 1:55 left, Auburn had a 97-74 advantage and it was all over but the shouting.

The Tigers return to action on Saturday when they travel to Gainesville to face the Florida Gators.


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Recap: No. 11 Auburn makes statement with blowout win over No. 16 Alabama

Brian Hauch

~3 minutes

After No. 11 Auburn lost to No. 16 Alabama two weeks ago in Coleman Coliseum forward Johni Broome was asked how the Tigers would treat the matchup in Neville Arena a few weeks later.

The junior responded with a succinct “It’s personal.”

Things certainly felt personal for Broome and the Tigers on an emotional Wednesday night in Auburn that ended in a 99-81 win over the rival Crimson Tide.

After an up-and-down first 15 minutes that saw the game deadlocked at 39, Auburn’s defense and timely shooting took over. Broome and fellow Forward Jaylin Williams went on a two-man, 16-2 run to end the half, giving the Tigers a 14-point cushion as they went to the locker room.

The duo finished the night with 50 combined points, leading Auburn to a 99-81 home victory to knot things up atop the SEC standings.

Guards Tre Donaldsonand Chad Baker-Mazara have become key complimentary pieces on the offensive end for the Tigers in SEC play. Tonight they were spectacular. The pair shot an effective 50% from the field in the win, combining for 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists.

While Auburn’s offense was extremely effective, the defense of Johni Broome, Chris Moore K.D Johnson in particular was also a story.

Broome’s five blocks and two steals combined with three steals apiece from Johnson and Moore led to transition opportunity after transition opportunity for an Auburn team that struggled shooting in the half court.

The 10+ turnover margin created by a suffocating Auburn defense was a major factor on the night. Other than the turnover issues, Alabama’s offense suffered from the road woes that have plagued it all season long.

Alabama guard Mark Sears and company made just 9 3-point shots on 26 attempts and only assisted on 8 made baskets. The Crimson Tide were bailed out by a bad Georgia defense in their last road game before tonight. Bruce Pearl made sure his defense did not suffer the same fate as the Bulldogs.

Auburn’s victory improves the Tigers to 19-4 on the season and 8-2 in the SEC. The Orange and Blue will enjoy tonight’s victory before traveling to Gainesville to take on a red-hot Florida team on Saturday.

As for Alabama, the Tide drop to 16-7 and 8-2 in the SEC. They’ll travel down to Baton Rouge to battle a rejuvenated LSU team this weekend.

Contact/Follow us @TheAuburnWire on  X (Twitter), and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Auburn news, notes, and opinion. You can also follow Brian on Twitter @TheRealBHauch

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Takeaways: No. 12 Auburn beats No. 16 Alabama 99-81

Daniel Locke

2–3 minutes

The No. 12 Auburn Tigers (19-4, 8-2 SEC) picked up a 99-81 victory over the No. 16 Alabama Crimson Tide (16-7, 8-2 SEC) tonight at Neville Arena.

After falling to Alabama in Tuscaloosa earlier in conference play, Auburn was on a mission in this game. It is safe to say that the Tigers conquered that mission.

What are the biggest takeaways from the game?

Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams could not be denied

Auburn's forward duo had a game to remember. Williams led Auburn in scoring with 26 points and Broome followed closely with 24.

Broome had seven rebounds, two assists and shot 7-16 from the field. Williams had six rebounds, one assist and shot 8-13 from the field.

Broome and Williams consistently make big impacts for Auburn and this game was no different.

Auburn won on the glass

The rebounding battle was a major talking point coming into this game and it ended up being a deciding factor.

Auburn out-rebounded Alabama 42-35 total, 15-14 on the offensive side and 27-21 on the defensive side.

Broome's seven led the way on the boards for Auburn. 

As a result, Auburn totaled 24 second-chance points to Alabama's 12.

Auburn contained Alabama's offense

Alabama leads the SEC in scoring, averaging 89.9 points per game. Auburn held the Crimson Tide to 81. 

Auburn has played well defensively this season and tonight was another example of just how well Auburn is capable of playing on that end of the floor.

The turnover difference was significant

Auburn took care of the ball, only turning it over five times. Alabama, on the other hand, turned the ball over 15 times.

The Crimson Tide's high amount of turnovers led to 22 points for the Tigers while they only scored 10 points off turnovers.

Auburn will be back in action on Saturday when it takes on the Florida Gators on the road in Gainesville. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CT. The television broadcast can be found on SEC Network and the Auburn Sports Network broadcast can be streamed anywhere on the Auburn Athletics app.

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3 takeaways from Auburns 9981 win over Alabama

Nathan King

7–8 minutes

Two weeks to the day, Auburn got revenge against its bitter rival — in dominant fashion.

Despite a clunky second half that featured 55 combined free-throw attempts between the teams, Auburn held a comfortable lead for most of the night and handled first-place Alabama, 99-81 inside Neville Arena on Wednesday night. Auburn is now 13-2 against ranked opponents on its home floor over the past seven seasons.

"I felt like going in this game was clearly the biggest regular-season game we’ve had this year because if Alabama gets this one, they’re two games up on us and we’re probably not in the championship race," Bruce Pearl said postgame. "... And so we put ourselves in a position where at least we’re still in it. Crowd was amazing. The environment was tremendous. ESPN goes to a lot of great buildings and a lot of sellout crowds, but this place is different.”

Here are Auburn Undercover's instant impressions, as the Tigers are now tied with the Crimson Tide and South Carolina for the league's best record at 8-2.


Nick Pringle poked the bear, and Johni Broome responded with a dominant few minutes to close the first half.

After Auburn led by as many as 14, Alabama roared back with a 19-4 run, as the Crimson Tide shot 6-of-15 from beyond the arc in the first half. The Tigers went cold with misses on seven of eight shots.

But after Pringle and Broome exchanged words under the basket, Broome scored 5 quick points to break the run, including a 3-pointer off a Chris Moore offensive rebound. 

Three possessions later, Broome saved a rebound to Tre Donaldson, who threw a runout pass ahead to Jaylin Williams. The lid nearly blew off Neville Arena when Williams decided to windmill dunk in the open floor, putting Auburn up 55-41 at the break. Nate Oats called timeout as the crowd went ballistic, but the Crimson Tide couldn’t get a shot off before halftime, as K.D. Johnson locked down Mark Sears and forced a shot-clock violation.

During a 16-2 run to close the half, Broome accounted for 12 points — after he had just 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting at the under-4 timeout with 3:44 left.


Whether it was scoring inside or earning a trip to the line, Auburn had plenty of success feeding the ball to its frontcourt.

The Tigers took advantage of their matchups in the paint with their two veteran big men, as Broome and Jaylin Williams combined for 50 points — more than half of Auburn's scoring Wednesday night.

Williams scored 13 points in the first 10 minutes of the game and remained a focal point for Auburn en route to a new career-high 26 points.

"It felt really good, just being patient inside," Williams said. "That's our game, and we took advantage of it."

Broome had his way on the interior against Alabama for the second straight game. With 24 points Wednesday night — including a 9-of-11 clip at the foul line for a player who shot 56.0 percent on free throws last season — now finishes with 59 combined points in two matchups against Alabama this season.

Broome also continued to flex his free-throw improvements, making six of his first seven foul shots and finishing. A 2-for-2 trip at the line for Broome seven minutes into the second half gave the Tigers their largest lead of the game to that point, up 70-50.

In a game with 61 combined fouls, Broome didn't get whistled for a single one. He also blocked five shots to go with his seven rebounds.

"I think the thing with Johni, again, it’s the inside-out deal," Pearl said. "He’s a monster with his back to the basket. He just knows how to use his body. You get it in there behind him, and it’s a bucket or a foul, in a lot of ways. But then he also is such a good passer and likes the ball in his hands."

Auburn's size advantage on the interior helped the Tigers win the rebounding battle 42-35, after Pearl said the boards were the main reason they lost in Tuscaloosa. 

""I thought we did a better job keeping bodies on bodies, not getting overwhelmed on the offensive glass, not getting beat to as many 50-50 balls," Pearl said.


Auburn fans certainly had plenty of time to celebrate the win, but it was because of heavy whistle.

Alabama entered the bonus with 13:35 left in the game. At the 12:20 mark of the second half, Auburn had six different players with three fouls apiece. A couple minutes later, Auburn joined the Tide in the bonus.

The clunky pace of the game seemed to bother the Tigers a bit, as Auburn’s offense went stagnant offensively for a large portion of the second half, starting just 5-of-21 from the floor, and at one point missing 10 straight shots. That dry spell lasted 7:10 without a made shot and allowed Alabama to bring the lead down from what was as large as 20 points to 12.

Alabama forward Grant Nelson, a couple minutes after getting into it with Chad Baker-Mazara, fouled out with 6:05 left in the game.

The teams combined to shoot a whopping 55 foul shots in the second half. Auburn went 27-of-34 (79 percent), while Alabama went 17-of-21 (81 percent). Auburn’s 40 made free throws (40-of-50) are a new program record.

"I know that people are going to look at those stats and go, ‘Man, it was a free-throw-fest,'" Pearl said. "But, I mean, we were reaching a little bit in. We were a little handsy on the perimeter and their guards shot a ton of free throws, right? And then we were pounding the ball inside and they were just climbing all over us — I mean, they were fouling us every time. So I don’t think the officials wanted to call it like that, but I think both teams played hard, played physically."

At one point, Auburn missed 10 of 11 field goals, but still mounted an 11-1 run via free throws and extended the Tigers' lead to 21 points with under four minutes left.

Part of Auburn’s ability to consistently score despite the shooting struggles was the fact that Auburn turned it over just once in the first half and only five times in the game.

Neither team found much success shooting the ball in the second half, but Auburn's ability to limit the Crimson Tide's second-ranked offense was key down the stretch. Alabama made just three 3-pointers after halftime and were 32.3 percent from the floor overall, with six turnovers. Pearl credited Auburn's big men, like Broome and Williams, for being able to switch effectively on the perimeter and keep themselves from being defensive liabilities against smaller, quicker guards.

"They’re both very unique because we were able to switch and guard Alabama’s guards with our bigs," Pearl said. "And then our guards did a decent enough job not getting overwhelmed by their athletes when we switched out."

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Auburn gets Iron Bowl of Basketball revenge with blowout win over Alabama

Andrew Olson | 3 hours ago

3–4 minutes

Auburn took control of Wednesday’s Iron Bowl of Basketball in the final minutes of the first half and never looked back. The No. 12 Tigers defeated No. 16 Alabama 99-81 to even the regular-season rivalry series and shakeup the SEC standings.

As one might expect with these two teams, there were spurts of scoring for each side in the early going. Auburn had a 32-18 lead before Alabama took a 37-36 at the 4:38 mark in the first half. It would be the last lead of the game for the Crimson Tide.

Bruce Pearl’s squad closed out the half on a tear, and suddenly UA found itself down 55-41 at the half on the road. Auburn’s Jungle environment made sure that a road comeback wouldn’t be an easy task.

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Auburn made sure not to let up on the attack in the second 20 minutes. Pearl might have liked a little more defense, but no coach is going to complain about outscoring the opponent 44-40 in the second half, adding to a 14-point advantage.

Alabama was the better 3-point shooting squad on the night, making 9-of-26 from beyond the arc whereas the Tigers were just 5-of-19. Auburn was better at just about everything else. Auburn dominated Alabama in points off turnovers (22-10), second-chance points (24-12), bench points (31-8), points in the paint (40-26), fast break points (26-8), blocks (12-5), steals (13-2) and assists (15-8).

Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome put on a show in the national spotlight. Williams led all scorers with 26 points on 8-of-13 field-goal shooting, while going 9-of-10 at the line. Broome was right behind him with 24 points on 7-of-16 shooting, along with a team-high 7 rebounds.

The officiating crew had a busy night with the whistles. Auburn shot 50 free throws, making 40. Alabama was 28-of-35 at the line. The Tide lost Grant Nelson and Aaron Estrada to fouls.

Alabama had been on top as the only SEC team with 1 conference loss. With Auburn’s win, there are now three teams sitting at 8-2 in conference play: Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina. Tennessee is 7-2, having played one fewer conference contest.


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Andrew Olson

Andrew is a News Manager for XLMedia's Saturday Football brands. Follow on Twitter.

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BOO HOO WILBER!  Our  high school gym can sure kept the lights on for them   lol😂

It's great to be an Auburn Tiger! I will be quite the peacock strutting around the next few days. I would puff on a big ol cigar if i had one.

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Lets All Sing! grins................

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I posted everything i could find on this special occasion! It is great to be an Auburn Tiger! I passed out after the game or i would have posted sooner. grins

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the gentleman who posted a thread on we are not very good needs to eat some grow. i will not mention any names to protect the guilty!

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How Bruce Pearl built Auburn, the deepest team in America

Published: Feb. 07, 2024, 6:33 a.m.
12–15 minutes

At some point last summer, this Auburn team all sat down together for breakfast. The dates are fuzzy with this much time together with breakfast every day, practice every day, the grind of the summer in the humid Alabama heat all built on one premise: spending time together.

That premise was simple, maybe even cliché, but Bruce Pearl was persistent. And maybe he was thinking ahead. He was going to build a team in a different mold than the one he’d won two regular season SEC titles with since 2018. There would be no superstar on this roster to rely on. It would be a collection of returnees melded with transfers from Conference USA, Division II and junior college. And one McDonald’s All-American tossed in the mix. It was an experiment.

So to make this collection of 11 players all sharing time nearly equally, Pearl’s team had to like each other — a concept so seemingly trivial but so important.

It led to Pearl building the deepest team in America.

“This is the closest team I’ve ever been on,” center Dylan Cardwell said, in his fourth season with Auburn and around here long enough to see a difference. “Everybody talks to everybody, and that’s kind of rare. And we all hang out. There’s no cliques on this team. It’s just fun to be on a team that everyone’s your genuine friend and your genuine brother, so that’s kind of where I see the difference in the past couple years.”

But that took time to build. Jaylin Williams, now in his fifth year at Auburn and the program’s all-time winningest player, said it was tough with so many new faces accepting new roles.

Auburn’s players all sat down for breakfast together because Pearl made it mandatory. Show up late, and face punishment in the form of running.

Asked who was late and Williams sat back and laughed.

“Probably like Johni or K.D.,” Williams said.

One day, Williams remembered, Johni Broome was so late that Williams and several other teammates went to his room and banged on his door until he woke up and came to join them.

“I don’t think we ran for that time but we ran the next day because we were late,” Williams said.

Auburn Baylor

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl yells at his players during a timeout in an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Josh Jurgens)AP

The pieces to blend in with Williams, Cardwell, Broome and several other returnees came from starkly different routes, but all had to fall into the same recruiting pitch.

There was Denver Jones, a guard from FIU moving closer to home. He averaged more than 20 points per game last season and played 33.4 minutes. He was coming to Auburn as a step up in level, but a decrease in role.

There was Chad Baker-Mazara, who was given another chance at a Division I level after beginning his career at Duquesne, then a transfer to San Diego State then a year at Northwest Florida State College before, at last, arriving at Auburn.

There was Chaney Johnson — maybe the best athlete on this Auburn team — who spent the last three years at Division II Alabama-Huntsville.

There was Aden Holloway, a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American with all the pedigree Pearl could look for in a lead guard, and yet he asked Holloway to fit into a role, too.

Holloway obliged. They all did.

“They’re happy to be here,” Pearl said. “And so therefore willing to accept less.”

That recruiting pitch is selfless, and not quite traditional in this age of the transfer portal. In an age where players move around for opportunity and exposure, Pearl sought players willing to cut back. In an era where big names move from big school to big school, Pearl sought several players who hadn’t even played Division I basketball.

“We studied the film, we studied them against certain opponents and we made evaluations not based on the name on the front of the jerseys,” Pearl said in September. “We made evaluations based on how good we thought they were going to be.”

The sum would be greater than its parts. The parts had to accept that.

Auburn basketball

AUBURN, AL - JAN 20 - Auburn Men's Head Coach Bruce Pearl during the game between the #13 Auburn Tigers and the #22 Ole Miss Rebels at Neville Arena in Auburn, AL on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. Photo by Zach BlandAuburn University Athletics

So Pearl made them have breakfast together. He made them work out together. He made them hang out together.

For this to work, the chemistry had to work, first.

“I‘ve always believed that, and I’ve said it many, many times, that I can help us win some games, but that really, truly players win championships,” Pearl said. “I know it sounds kind of goofy. It’s just true.”

It led to pre-season practices where Pearl never would have a true grasp on exactly what he had. With so many new faces in new roles, it was hard to tell. He had position battles at several spots.

Yet the observation Pearl quickly made turned out to be very astute: it didn’t matter who was going to start.

“I can tell you, though, there will be a ton of parity — more than any team I’ve coached,” Pearl said in October. “I would say the balance of minutes will be the greatest on this team more than any team I’ve coached. And I’ve played 10 guys double-digit minutes my entire career. We won’t drop off much when we go to the bench. And, again, are our starters good enough? There’s just not a lot of drop-off. Maybe, probably, a little bit of both.”

There isn’t a drop-off, and it’s shown on the court.

The starters for most of the season have been Holloway, Jones, Chris Moore, Williams and Broome.

But Auburn’s bench scores 36 points per game. That’s the best in SEC and fourth best in the nation. Auburn’s bench plays 43.9% of the total minutes for a game, the fifth most of any team in the nation, per KenPom.

Nine players are in the 93rd percentile or better nationally in +/- rating, per CBB Analytics. Five Auburn players have usage rates in the 65th percentile or better nationally, per CBB Analytics, and only two are current starters. They share the ball: Auburn is top 10 nationally in assists per game.

At one point in January, a five-man Auburn lineup made up entirely of bench players was the most efficient lineup in the entire country, beating out every other team’s starters.

Or, take several three-man Auburn combinations still among the best in the SEC — and the best all of them all coming off Auburn’s bench.

Only two Auburn players average double-figure scoring. Auburn’s top seven scorers all average more than seven points per game. Baker-Mazara, off the bench, is Auburn’s third-leading scorer.

Pearl has hardly made changes to his rotation. It’s not broken, no need to fix it. He’s only made two starting lineup changes this season based on performance. Pearl moved Holloway into the starting lineup over Tre Donaldson after the first two games for how well he’d shot the ball off the bench. And last week, he moved Donaldson back into the lineup over Holloway due to the freshman’s struggles in SEC play.

Yet for the competition between them that began the moment Holloway arrived, the duo works together nearly seamlessly.

This is the culmination of a continued effort from Pearl throughout his tenure here to truly find his proverbial guys. And maybe his best effort in team building came when he took this unconventional approach.

“And guess what, when I’m out there recruiting,” Peal said. “You’re going to want to know Dylan Cardwell, or Johni Broome or Tre Donaldson or Chris Moore or Lior Berman. Or Jaylin Williams. K.D. Johnson, you know what I’m saying. And I tell my guys returning: you’re gonna like Chaney Johnson. You’re gonna want to play with Denver Jones. You’re gonna want to play with Aden and Chad and AD. That’s been I think who we’ve been for a long time.”

Auburn, AL - 20230926 - Auburn Tigers Men's Basketball First Practice

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 26 - Head Coach Bruce Pearl during the Auburn Tigers Men's Basketball first practice of 2023-24 at Neville Arena in Auburn, AL on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn TigersZach Bland/Auburn Tigers

But it didn’t take until a few games into the season for the pieces to all fit together, for all that time spent over the summer to finally give the payoff Pearl sought. Cardwell said that moment came after Auburn beat St. Bonaventure in New York — the fourth game of the season.

“I think that was the first game where everyone was each other’s fans, rather than wishing they got the opportunity to play,” Cardwell said. “The coaches kinda acknowledged that and how we were actually cheering for each other instead of being like, ‘Aw, I wish it was me that had the glory or it was me that had the opportunities.’”

And from there, Auburn’s bench took off.

Auburn, AL - 20231101 - Auburn Tigers Men's Basketball vs. Auburn Montgomery Warhawks

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 01 - Head Coach Bruce Pearl during the game between the Auburn Tigers and the Auburn Montgomery Warhawks at Neville Arena in Auburn, AL on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn TigersZach Bland/Auburn Tigers

The rotations stayed quick and frequent as if like a hockey shift. They played selfless the way Pearl intended, and the way Cardwell hadn’t seen Auburn play during his time here. It led Auburn to the heights of an 11-game win streak and a climb into the top 10 of the Associated Press top 25 poll.

In some games, like Auburn’s January win over Ole Miss at Neville Arena, the depth showed when Baker-Mazara passed up his rotation to play because he saw his teammate had played better.

“Leave him in there. Lior (Berman) is playing so great,” Pearl remembers Baker-Mazara telling Auburn’s coaches as Berman was playing well defensively against former Auburn guard Allen Flanigan.

Yet that same Baker-Mazara can flip into Auburn’s aggressor. In the Ole Miss re-match, Baker-Mazara kicked Auburn’s coaches out of the locker room as Auburn trailed at halftime and talked to his teammates.

“I was like, ‘No way we just destroyed them right here and then we go out there and get destroyed,’” Baker-Mazara said. “I was like, ‘Hey guys, this is probably the best half of basketball they ever will play. They can’t play better than this. So they can either play the same if we let them or play worse if we stop them.’”

Oxford, MS - 20240203 - #16 Auburn Tigers Men's Basketball vs. Ole Miss Rebels

OXFORD, MS - FEBRUARY 03 - Auburn's K.D. Johnson (0) during the game between the #16 Auburn Tigers and the Ole Miss Rebels at Sandy and John Black Pavalion in Oxford, MS on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn TigersZach Bland/Auburn Tigers

Baker-Mazara’s speech rallied Auburn to a 56-point second half and Auburn’s finest response after it had lost its previous two road games by a combined 10 points, crashing its win streak to a halt.

But that only worked, Pearl and Baker-Mazara said, because the locker room had enough trust to listen. A trust that built since summer breakfasts.

That long-winded plan is why this team was dancing on the court in warm-ups against Mississippi State in late January even coming off a loss to Alabama three days prior. And when Auburn lost that game too, nothing changed when a giddy bunch returned to Neville Arena and beat Vanderbilt and beat Ole Miss on Saturday for what’s so far been a season-defining win. All leading into a most-important rematch against Alabama on Wednesday night.

“And they would not allow that to happen, and I thought that had a lot to do with their closeness,” Pearl said of Auburn’s response after losing to Alabama and Mississippi State. “I think that’s what it boils down to: their friendship, their respect.”

It was Pearl’s experiment. A continuing drone of hours to finally get Pearl’s equation to balance — the sum indeed greater than its parts.

“It’s fun to be a kid again,” Cardwell said.

Matt Cohen covers Auburn sports for AL.com. You can follow him on X at @Matt_Cohen_ or email him at mcohen@al.com

Auburn, AL - 20230926 - Auburn Tigers Men's Basketball First Practice

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 26 - Head Coach Bruce Pearl, Team during the Auburn Tigers Men's Basketball first practice of 2023-24 at Neville Arena in Auburn, AL on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn TigersZach Bland/Auburn Tigers

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‘Welcome to Pearlville’: Auburn students camp out for over 24 hours ahead of Alabama game

Published: Feb. 07, 2024, 3:15 p.m.

3–4 minutes

Come the hours of midnight to 2 a.m., Andrew Reid, a senior civil engineering major at Auburn, called it quits.

“It’s like a 30-degree difference from what is now and what it was,” Reid said in an interview with AL.com Wednesday afternoon. “It just got cold. My nose, my ears and my neck were getting cold.”

So Reid, after more than 12 hours of being camped outside Neville Arena, decided to head home for the night. Fortunately for him, he had friends who braved the elements, keeping his spot in the student line to get into Wednesday night’s men’s basketball game against Alabama.

The line of students outside Neville Arena started well over 24 hours before tipoff between No. 12 Auburn and No. 16 Alabama in the second game of this year’s two-game “Iron Bowl of Basketball” series.

“We’re all kinda taking shifts,” Reid said. “We had a little tent. Some people out here just kinda slept in a chair or on the ground. Some of us didn’t say, some of us went home but we always made sure someone was here.”

In terms of dinner, Reid calls it a “free-for-all.”

While some people brought pizza and snacks, others made a visit to Village Dining or took the short walk to Momma Goldberg’s Deli on West Magnolia Avenue.

At around 9 p.m., Auburn players Johni Broome, KD Johnson, Dylan Cardwell and Jalen Harper showed up with boxes upon boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts to distribute to the crowd of students.

Come Wednesday afternoon at about 1:30, tents had been taken down to make room for more students.

Meanwhile, Reid’s friends resorted to camping chairs and played a game of Uno. Other students waiting in line threw frisbees and footballs in nearby grassy areas.

“It’s the best tailgate outside of football. It’s a tailgate,” Reid said, admitting there are always plenty of “beverages.”

For Reid, Wednesday’s stakeout wasn’t his first. In fact, he was a part of what students call “Pearlville 1.0,” which was the campout ahead of the Kentucky-Auburn game in 2022.

“That first year, we didn’t have much structure. There was no structure. It was just literally a free-for-all with no structure and we had lines going past the Village Dining,” Reid recalls. “The line started like an actual line, but once the doors open, it flooded and it was a stampede. Now people have figured there needs to be a little bit of structure, a little discipline, some trust, some honor.”

And on Wednesday afternoon, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl, the namesake of “Pearlville,” made his way to the line to express his appreciation for Auburn’s dedicated students ahead of Wednesday night’s highly anticipated Iron Bowl matchup.

Auburn and Alabama are set to tip off Wednesday night at 6 for a game that’ll be broadcasted on ESPN2.

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How No. 12 Auburn got revenge against No. 16 Alabama and made an SEC statement

Published: Feb. 07, 2024, 10:43 p.m.

6–7 minutes

Nate Oats knew this only moments after he’d beaten Auburn two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa. And the last question the Alabama head coach was asked in his press conference that Jan. 24 night sealed it.

After getting out to a 14-point lead over Auburn at halftime on his home floor, and watching that lead shrink all the way down to a free throw from Auburn forward Chad Baker-Mazara to tie the game with 12 seconds left. Baker-Mazara missed, and Auburn escaped.

An Alabama defense that has struggled throughout this season — outside the top 250 nationally in scoring defense — had collapsed in the second half to allow 45 Auburn points and Oats knew this was a sign of what could be to come as a trip to Neville Arena loomed.

“We’ll see a better version of them,” Oats said on Jan. 24. “If we play like we did tonight, we’ll lose at their place. We’re going to be extremely happy, excited we got the win. We’re in first place. We’ve got to work on between now and then. They’re a good team. They’re going to play better at home.”

He was right. Auburn (19-4, 8-2) figured out Alabama’s defense in the second half in Tuscaloosa, and No. 12 Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl knew to continue capitalizing on his team’s advantage on the interior in an eventual 99-81 win over No. 16 Alabama on Wednesday night.

Since halftime in Tuscaloosa, Auburn beat Alabama 144-116. It was just one bad half that kept Auburn from sweeping this season’s series.

There’s a reason why Auburn was never overly concerned after the loss two weeks ago. The loss in the first edition this season of the Iron Bowl of Basketball ended an 11-game win streak and was the first in two consecutive losses on the road. But when Auburn heard the celebrations in the Alabama locker room down the hall of Coleman Coliseum after escaping late, this team already knew to look forward to this Wednesday night back at home.

“Yeah, you know, after the Alabama game, we all felt like we won, in a way,” forward Jaylin Williams said. “It was a very weird feeling. I’ve never felt that. We felt like we could’ve done so much better. Knowing we could’ve done so much better, we felt OK with losing that game.”

No one on this team has used the term moral victory, but that game in Tuscaloosa was about as close it would come. Auburn won the second half at Coleman Coliseum 45-35. Auburn’s defense held Alabama to 9-31 shooting the second half in the eventual Tuscaloosa loss. Auburn cut down on turnovers that had been crucially bad in the first half and figured out exactly how to beat an Alabama offense that has been consistently one of the best in the nation this season.

So two weeks later, Auburn planned to be physical. It planned to take advantage of its size, and it knew that while rivalry matters between these two, this was a game maybe less about Alabama specifically and more about keeping pace in the standings.

“This was a must-win,” Auburn center Johni Broome said after the game Wednesday.

Auburn played like it. Oats said Alabama played like a team that knew it would be in first place even with a loss. Pearl said he knew Auburn had a size advantage that he planned to exploit, and with 40 points in the paint, Auburn out-muscled its in-state rival.

Alabama led 37-36 with just under five minutes to play in the first half. Auburn closed the half on a 19-4 run. Broome scored 12 points in the final 3:30 of the first half. Auburn fed the ball to the interior and pulled away from Alabama.

Auburn went into halftime with 55 points already, and a 14-point lead — the exact margin it trailed by in Tuscaloosa at halftime. And when Auburn responded in the second half in the first matchup, Alabama didn’t at Neville Arena.

Broome and Williams combined to score 50 of Auburn’s 99 points. With its physicality, Auburn totaled 24 second chance points. Broome had five blocks. Auburn has 13 steals.

When the second half became defined by Auburn getting to the free throw line, Auburn relied on its shooting from the stripe to be improved from a year ago.

It was. Auburn made 40-50 from the line.

“We were pounding the ball inside and they were just climbing all over us,” Pearl said. “I mean, they were fouling us every time. So I don’t think the officials wanted to call it like that, but I think both teams played hard, played physically.”

It all combined for Auburn’s statement, an 18-point win, and another Quad 1 win.

Auburn had none before it went to Ole Miss last Saturday. It’s now gotten two in a row.

These are the types of wins that transform Auburn from the analytics darling its been all season into a true contender in this league.

“I felt like going in this game was clearly the biggest regular season game we’ve had this year because if Alabama gets this one, they’re two games up on us and we’re probably not in the championship race and we’d like to still be in it,” Pearl said. “And so we put ourselves in a position where at least we’re still in it.”

Auburn is now in a four-way tie with Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina atop the SEC. It has turned a resume without a true quality win into getting two as many games. It’s why Pearl has now said Auburn has gotten its best win of the season after straight games.

In the first ranked-versus-ranked matchup between Auburn and Alabama in this building, Auburn made its statement. In one of the most significant Iron Bowl of Basketball matches in this rivalry’s history, Auburn responded.

Matt Cohen covers Auburn sports for AL.com. You can follow him on X at @Matt_Cohen_ or email him at mcohen@al.com

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8 hours ago, aubiefifty said:


Love hearing these guys after the game.  Jaylin is so humble and laid back, Johni doesn’t pull any punches and is more straight forward.

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2 minutes ago, BornAU76 said:

Love hearing these guys after the game.  Jaylin is so humble and laid back, Johni doesn’t pull any punches and is more straight forward.

i was not that big on him and i am not sure why but i have mad love for him now! but i do love all my auburn folks even if i do not like them if that makes any sense..........

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Goodman: I never should have doubted Auburn's Bruce Pearl

Updated: Feb. 08, 2024, 7:17 a.m.|Published: Feb. 08, 2024, 6:24 a.m.

7–9 minutes

This is an opinion column.


If I’m being completely honest, Auburn’s basketball team prompted a healthy dose of skepticism after its loss at Alabama earlier this season.

The guard play was sloppy and unsure of itself and the Tigers allowed Alabama mustached project player Grant Nelson to take over the game in Coleman Coliseum. It was more than a little revealing, and, so, based on those things, it was fair to assume that Alabama had a decent chance of walking into Auburn on Wednesday night and delivering its season’s signature victory.

Yeah, no.

Not even close.

On this night, the Jungle was not going to allow anyone wearing crimson and white out of the gym without a few bruises and a reminder of how difficult it is for visiting rivals to hear and breath — never mind perform and win — inside one of the rowdiest, loudest and most intimidating venues of competition in the universe.

Yes, universe, because during Auburn’s 99-81 victory against Alabama — after Alabama coach Nate Oats had disrespected the place before the game — Neville Arena felt like a scene from the movie Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

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“Two men enter, one man leaves,” said Dr. Dealgood, and I’m pretty sure that’s the pep talk Auburn coach Bruce Pearl gave all those students who camped out for seats before this one.

Not exactly known for saying the right thing at the right time, Oats described Neville Arena as a high school gymnasium before the game. Big mistake. Whether Alabama’s coach was trying to deliver a compliment or not, he pretty much sealed his team’s fate before tipoff with those words.

Alabama stunned Auburn at Neville last season, but Alabama basketball circa 2023, for all of its problems, featured some serious NBA-level talent. This squad? Well, the Tide couldn’t even win in a high school gym, so we’re still in wait and see mode.

Back in 2020, I wrote a column predicting that we were about to enter the golden era of basketball in the state of Alabama. It was one of the greatest calls of my career as a columnist. We’re living it now, so let’s move past the canned reaction of Alabama suddenly being a basketball state. Basketball people knew this was coming long ago.

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What Oats should have said was that the atmosphere inside Auburn’s arena when Alabama comes to town is the toughest thing American basketball has seen since LeBron James played for the Miami Heat and he returned to Cleveland for the first time. I’ve heard that the cramped basketball gyms in Central Europe can turn dangerous and psychotic for big games between rivals, and that’s pretty much where Neville Arena found itself for part two of 2024′s version of the Iron Bowl of basketball.

My first mistake with Auburn this season is that I never should have doubted Pearl, Auburn’s future Hall of Fame coach who continues to unlock new ways to win games for the Tigers. In the past, Auburn has won with its guards and with dynamic wings. This year’s team is different. Auburn features some quality on the edges, yes, but Auburn big man Johni Broome is the heart and soul of a team unlike any we’ve seen on the Plains.

Tennessee might have the best overall basketball team in the country, but in Broome it’s beginning to look like Auburn could have the SEC’s best overall player going into the meat of the conference schedule. At least that’s how Broome plays against Alabama. He did it in Coleman a couple weeks ago, and the encore inside Neville was an artful piece of hulking beauty that reminded people old enough to remember of Charles Barkley’s game when he developed out of nothing for the Tigers.

I write it every year, but I’ll repeat it again here. I cannot put down in words enough flowery, effusive, gushingly positive things about how Pearl develops quality players with big hearts into elite-level talents during their college careers. As long as there are coaches like Pearl in the college game, then there will be a place for determined basketball players to develop their skills for the NBA.

Pearl doesn’t get enough credit. He really doesn’t. If there’s a better coach at molding college projects into coveted NBA-quality players, then someone feel free to point them out. For me, Pearl is currently the best there is, and my latest proof is the transformation of Broome. He was a good defender last season, but Broome is starting to look like a legitimate first-round draft pick.

For the second time this season, Alabama had absolutely no answer for Broome, who finished with 24 points in 26 minutes to go along with seven rebounds and five game-altering blocks. Broome was unstoppable offensively. He was nowhere near as skilled around the rim last season, and his shooting was a liability. Broome was 9 of 11 from the free-throw line against Alabama. I had to check the box score three times just to make sure I was reading it correctly.

Broome does it all. Tennessee might have the most complete team in the SEC, and some are saying the country, but we’re halfway through conference play and Auburn’s big man looks like the best player in the league.

Pearl asked Broome to put in the work and Broome listened and then some. That’s obvious. Even his three-point attempts can’t be ignored by opposing defenses.

I thought Isaac Okoro was a diamond in the rough, but Broome is proof that Pearl can make a stretch five out of bruising centers, too.

Running, blocking, faking, abusing, dunking, bodying, balanced near the rim, fighting for everything AND pulling up from outside — there is nothing Broome can’t do. His highlight reel this season compared to when he showed up at Auburn is all any recruit in the country needs to see.

Pearl is a master and what he has done for Auburn makes him one of the greatest coaches the SEC has ever seen. His next task? Bring the best out of freshman guard Aden Halloway before the conference tournament. Do that, and this Tigers team might be the kind that breaks Tennessee hearts in Nashville and cuts down some NCAA Tournament nets.


Got a question about college basketball, the Super Bowl, Auburn, Alabama, college football, or the SEC? Want to get something off your chest? Send Joe a question about what’s on your mind for the Friday mailbag. Ask him anything.

Joseph Goodman is the lead sports columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of the most controversial sports book ever written.

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Casagrande: Auburn rout of Alabama taught us a lot

Updated: Feb. 07, 2024, 10:56 p.m.|Published: Feb. 07, 2024, 10:28 p.m.

5–6 minutes

Auburn fans sing reverse Rammer Jammer after the Tigers beat Alabama 99-81 at Neville Arena


Michael Casagrande | mcasagrande@al.com

This is an opinion column.

Johni Broome had just scored his 18th point when the Auburn forward made the gesture.

The 6-foot-10 junior leaned over; palm parallel to the hardwood. Too small, was the message after Auburn bullied its way to what was an 18-point lead over Alabama in what became a 99-81 blowout of their in-state rivals Wednesday night.

Too small.

And frankly, too soft.

Auburn outworked and out-muscled its guests in a game Bruce Pearl said they needed to remain in the SEC regular-season hunt.

Auburn outdid Alabama on the Tide’s blue-collar metric, 96.5 to 71.5. That’s Alabama’s third-lowest output in the effort index recorded less than a week after its by-far season high of 118.5 in a win over Mississippi State.


“We didn’t play hard enough,” Nate Oats said.


Hard hats didn’t make the trip south as Auburn big-boy’d their way to retribution for the 79-75 loss two weeks earlier in Tuscaloosa. It ended a three-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide.

The traditional stat sheet explained the genesis of Alabama’s blue-collar blues.

First, the points in the paint. Auburn won that, 40-26 with Broome (24 points), Jaylin Williams (26 points) and Company building the lead inside. That disparity would have been higher if not for all the fouls. Alabama was whistled for a season-high 33, leading to Auburn making 40 of 50 free throws. That includes 9-for-11 from the line for the improved shooting Broome.

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The 50 attempts were a season-high by a margin of 14 after trying 36 apiece against Alabama A&M and Virginia Tech. It tried just 18 two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa.

“A team who plays harder fouls less,” Oats said, “because they’re in position.”

Then there were the turnovers. Auburn had just five to Alabama’s 15 -- of which, 13 were Auburn steals. Those high-effort moments led to a 22-10 edge in points off turnovers.

And the blocks. Auburn finished with a 12-5 edge there.

It was still a game until the closing segment of the first half when Auburn closed on a 16-2 run after the final TV timeout. Alabama managed just three shots in that span and missed all three.

And that was when the walls of Neville Arena closed in on the Crimson Tide, just as it has all 11 previous visitors this season. The Tigers haven’t lost here since Alabama claimed a rare 77-69 victory last year.

Broome and Williams had a lot to do with Wednesday’s result. Not a week after Pearl called Broome “the baddest boy on the block,” Auburn’s physical edge over Alabama was on full display.

Charles Barkley saw it.

“Alabama’s got all these little skinny dudes out there,” Barkley said on the ESPN2 broadcast. “Coach Oats does a fantastic job. When I was looking at the game early, I said, ‘Man, Broome should have a big night’ because Alabama, their guards are terrific, but they have no size inside.”

He did.

And Broome didn’t deny that after the game. Recounting the moment he threw a no-look pass to Williams, the big man was a little more honest than he intended.

“I was going to go iso, but I saw Jaylin had a little shrimp on him,” Broome said, realizing what he said. “Oh, I’m sorry. Listen, though. He had a guard on him -- he had a guard, he had a guard. He was just pointing up. I just picked up my shoulder and threw it up to him. I know he’s a high-flyer so I know he’s going to get it. I did not mean to say that.”


But was he wrong?

Oats noted the lack of fight after Auburn took the big lead late in the first half. That wasn’t the Alabama team that won 10 of its last 11, more like the one that took a 91-71 beating at Tennessee as the lone SEC setback to that point.

So, bottom line, Auburn appeared to be back in its groove after dropping consecutive road games two weeks ago.

Alabama, though still tied atop the SEC standings, had a major flaw exposed.

Too small.

Too soft for the baddest boys on Auburn’s block.

Just ask Johni Broome.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.

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No. 16 Alabama reminded of what it's missing in blowout loss at No. 12 Auburn

Updated: Feb. 08, 2024, 5:39 a.m.|Published: Feb. 08, 2024, 5:28 a.m.

5–7 minutes

Sitting courtside, one of the toughest players to ever play basketball noticed what Alabama lacked. During the highly-anticipated rematch between the Tide and Auburn, Tigers legend Charles Barkley gave a quick interview on the ESPN broadcast.

Barkley assumed AU star Johni Broome would have a big night, just like he would if he faced “all these little skinny dudes.” The Tigers legend was blunt. Not only did his prediction come true, but Barkley’s sound bite neatly summarized the limitations Alabama has battled all season and succumbed to once again at Neville Arena.

Similar to its loss at Tennesse on Jan. 20, Alabama was outmatched against an elite Southeastern Conference opponent. This one came after 50 points combined from Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams, the latter shining for a career-high 26 points off just one three-pointer. The No. 12 Tigers (19-4, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) outmuscled the Tide 40-to-26 in points in the paint and 24-to-12 in second-chance points.

On blue-collar points — the Nate Oats-branded measure of hustle — Alabama was outpaced by 25 points. The result, a 99-81 final in Neville Arena, wiped away the goodwill of a four-game winning streak and sent No. 16 UA (16-7, 8-2) into a four-way tie in the loss column with the Volunteers and South Carolina.

The good news? Alabama has a home against Tennessee and a month to correct its interior woes before the postseason. The bad news? Road trips to Kentucky, Ole Miss and Florida can only deepen the gash. On this night, UA got another reminder of how badly its missing Charles Bediako, who opted for the pros following last season.

Auburn forward Johni Broome reacts after a basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Alabama, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)AP

“We didn’t want to double (Broome) cause I saw other teams that doubled gave up a bunch of 3s to him,” UA head coach Nate Oats said postgame. “In hindsight, as bad as we lost, maybe we should’ve doubled more and tried to rotate around.

“They’re both good. They’re two of the better, they may have the best frontcourt, when you look at a four and a five, in the league. We didn’t do a very good job of it. Part of its we started small and they punished us. We need to have a better answer for it we continue to start small like that.”

Postgame, Oats brought up the gauntlet of bigs it struggled with all year: Zach Edey and Purdue; Oumar Ballo with Arizona; Ryan Kalkbrenner’s Creighton. The recipe has been the same, teams flood the paint and try to get Alabama into foul trouble. Oats noted that aside from a road effort against Tolu Smith and Mississippi State, Alabama hasn’t found a suitable answer.

On Wednesday, Alabama went with a smaller lineup with Rylan Griffen at the four and Grant Nelson at the five. Auburn scored 12 points in the paint in the first eight minutes of action. Though an emerging Mouhamed Dioubate helped a little, Auburn had the depth and forced enough turnovers to keep punishing Alabama for it and handle a 19-4 run.

“Did not anticipate Griffen starting at the four,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said, understanding the strategy. “... The only thing we could do then is just pound it inside.

“Offensively, it makes them better. I mean, offensively, the more shooters and skill players you got, so it made Alabama a tougher cover when they went small. But they’re not better defensively when they’re small.”

The highlight of the first half came on an alley-oop feed from Broome to Williams when Broome already established position inside. In his news conference, Broome referred to an Alabama post defender as a “little shrimp” before quickly retracting it.

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Auburn’s 40 free throws set a single-game school record. The Tigers attempted 50 from the line as the teams combined for 63 fouls.

Grant Nelson and Aaron Estrada fouled out with a couple of minutes remaining. Dioubate, Griffen, Sam Walter and Latrell Wrightsell Jr. finished with four infractions apiece.

“We gotta be more disciplined. Some of them were just bad fouls. We need to stay in front of the ball better,” Oats said. " ... Some of our guys aren’t even following scouting report stuff. Like, we tell you what the guy’s gonna do and they do exactly what we tell you we’re gonna do and we don’t do a very good job guarding it. There are multiple reasons. Some of it is effort.”

Each foul called allowed Auburn to maintain its double-digit lead amid a 6-plus minute field-goal drought. The calls also started to visibly frustrate the Tide before it boarded a bus ride back to Tuscaloosa rife with questions.

Nick Alvarez is a reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @nick_a_alvarez or email him at NAlvarez@al.com.

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After win over Alabama, Auburn’s Jaylin Williams sure has a story to tell

Published: Feb. 08, 2024, 6:00 a.m.

4–5 minutes

Auburn fifth-year senior Jaylin Williams wanted Wednesday night’s game against Alabama to be one he could proudly tell his kids about years from now.

“In, like, 20 years, you can say, ‘I beat them my last year,’” Williams said of the Crimson Tide the Tuesday heading into the Alabama-Auburn rematch. “That would be pretty cool to tell my kids some day.”

For Williams, who coming into Wednesday night’s matchup had lost his last three times out against Alabama, a win against “that team up north” was all he was looking for. That was the only story Williams was hoping to be able to tell 20 years from now — anything else was extra.

And against the Crimson Tide Wednesday night, the extras just kept coming and coming, adding to Williams’ future story. Now, when story time finally rolls around, Williams will have to ask himself where he wants to start, because he’s got lots of options.

If he wants to, Williams can have his story start before tipoff, when he was recognized for his 1,000th career point in front of a rowdy home crowd. Williams scored his 1,000th career point way back in December with a 20-point effort against Alabama State.

Why Auburn waited until Feb. 7 to recognize him? Who knows. But for the sake of the argument, let’s just say it was something that needed to be included in his story.

But if Williams didn’t want to start there, his story could pick up just before halftime of Wednesday night’s game with Auburn ahead 53-41 with just over 33 seconds to play in the first half. After an Alabama miss, Auburn sophomore Tre Donaldson collected the rebound and quickly pushed the ball down the floor with a pass to Williams, who slammed home a windmill dunk to stretch Auburn’s lead out to 14.

“I think I almost broke my wrist,” Williams joked after the game.

Immediately following Williams’ dunk, which induced one of the loudest Neville Arena eruptions this season, Alabama head coach Nate Oaks was forced to call a timeout in hopes of stopping some of the bleeding. Meanwhile, as the lights dimmed, Williams was quickly greeted by his teammates, who couldn’t believe the jam they just witnessed.

“I’m jealous,” Auburn junior center Johni Broome said after the game. “Listen, we talk about windmills all the time. I just learned how to windmill this year from him. I always want to get an in-game windmill.”

So when Williams tells the story of Feb. 7, 2024, he could start there — at the dunk that left his teammates green with envy.

Or, if he wanted to, Williams could fast forward to late in the second half.

The back half of Wednesday’s game wasn’t as exciting as the first. Instead of windmill dunks, there were a lot of free throws. Auburn attempted 34 free throws in the second half with Williams stepping to the line to try for eight from the charity stripe.

In the second half, Williams went 7-for-8 from the free throw line, bringing his night total to 9-for-10.

When Williams stepped to the line for the final time with just more than five minutes to play, he did so after having logged 24 points on the night, tying his career high, which came against Ole Miss on Jan. 6, 2021.

One make — let alone two makes — would give Williams a new career high. And two makes it was, giving Williams a 26-point night.

“I knew going into the game that (Nick) Pringle wasn’t 100% and some of those guys weren’t 100%. So I knew they were going to play smaller,” Williams said when asked about his big night. “It was just going in, I just I had to be patient, be more aggressive inside.”

And all together, with the pregame presentation, the first half windmill dunk, the new career high and the massive rivalry win at home — Williams has himself a pretty dang good story.

How he’ll start it? Well, that’s up to him.

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3 takeaways from Alabama basketball’s blowout road loss at Auburn

Updated: Feb. 07, 2024, 10:30 p.m.|Published: Feb. 07, 2024, 10:22 p.m.

4–5 minutes

Alabama takes the court at Auburn as tipoff nears

Alabama men’s basketball took a tough SEC loss Wednesday at Auburn, falling 99-81 to the Tigers, in a game the Crimson Tide Tide rarely seemed awake in.

UA fell to 16-7 on the season with the loss. The Tide will face LSU on the road Saturday.

Before that, here are three takeaways from the rivalry loss.

No separation

The past two seasons, a single team has swept the Iron Bowl of Basketball. That streak ended Wednesday. The Tigers earned revenge for their January Coleman Coliseum loss on their home floor.

The loss hurt the Crimson Tide in its effort to win the SEC regular-season title. Entering the game, Alabama had a lead, mostly stemming from its win against the Tigers.

“It was for first place, they came out and played like it was for first place,” Oats said of Auburn.

The Auburn win created a tie at the top of the table. The Tide and Tigers, along with South Carolina, are all 8-2, and Tennessee is 7-2.

Alabama faces LSU in Baton Rouge next, before facing Texas A&M and Florida at home.

“We could have separated ourselves a little bit and we didn’t,” Oats said.

Trouble in the paint

When Auburn went inside, the Crimson Tide had a hard time putting up much resistance. Throughout the game, Alabama simply had no counter for Tiger big man Johni Broome.

UA doesn’t have a dominant presence in the paint this season. Nick Pringle returned from suspension, but he couldn’t do much against Broome.

Auburn ended the game with 40 points in the paint, compared to Alabama’s 26. Broome finished the game with 22 points and seven rebounds, and Auburn forward Jaylin Williams had 26 and six..

Guarding big, strong frontcourts has been an issue all year for the Tide. Oats pointed to the Crimson Tide’s previous game against Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith as the lone bright spot so far.

“That’s probably the one game I can remember off the top of my head where we played a legitimate post-up big and did a decent job on him,” Oats said. “Other than that, we haven’t. We’ve tried to double at times and different doubles, we give up threes. It’s an issue, we gotta be better inside.”

The Tide got outrebounded 42-35. Auburn was able to pick up 24 second-chance points.

Turnover issues

Alabama had a major ball security issue throughout the loss. The Crimson Tide committed 15 turnovers throughout the game.

13 of those were steals by Auburn.

“A lot of the effort stats that you look at, rebounds, turnovers, they were better than us,” Oats said.

The Tigers were ready to capitalize. Auburn ended the game scoring 22 points off of turnovers.

On a night when it struggled to do much defensively, Alabama couldn’t afford to give away possessions. The Crimson Tide got outplayed in all facets of the game, but too many of the problems were of its own creation.


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How Auburn’s Johni Broome expanded his game into an SEC Player of the Year contender

Published: Feb. 08, 2024, 6:31 a.m.

5–6 minutes

At every Auburn practice, Johni Broome shoots as if he were a guard. He takes silly trick shots before practice with Aden Holloway and Tre Donaldson, two of Auburn’s best 3-point shooters and occasionally, he makes them. In every practice, Auburn runs a 3-point shooting drill where teammates pair up and shoot from each spot around the arc.

Frequently, Broome is paired with a true shooter to go through the drill.

It’s all in a promise he’s pursued to expand his game after he pursued the NBA last summer. He knew he’d have to improve his shooting — from the perimeter and the free throw line — to be considered at the professional level.

“Working out with guys like Aden, Tre and KD, Denver,” Broome said. “Guys like that who shoot the ball really well. Just building confidence. Shooting with those guys, I maybe win once, it’s all fun and games. I missed three today, but it all felt good. You see my teammates and coaches, they don’t mind me shooting them because they’re confident in me, as I am in myself. That’s a good thing, especially when you see one go in. It helps my team win.”

And over the last six games, Broome and Auburn (19-4, 8-2) are beginning to see the payoff. He’s made a 3-pointer in six consecutive games. That includes making one as part of a 24-point performance in a 99-81 win over Alabama on Wednesday.

And he’s quickly seen his stock rise into the SEC Player of the Year conversation.

“At the beginning of the year, I did talk about the fact that I thought we had a pretty good front line,” Pearl said. “Probably, if you looked me up, I’d say we had one of the best front lines in our league. I think I said that. Then you get a lot of talk about it. I think Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome could get some discussions about frontlines in the country right now.”

Broome is averaging more than 17 points per game over his last six games. Broome knew he had a size advantage in both matchups against Alabama, and took advantage on the interior. He’s scored 49 total points in the two games.

Broome is now averaging taking 1.9 3-pointers per game, a whole attempt more than he had last season. Broome may not make them consistently — though he has made seven of 14 3-pointers over the last six games in what is by far the most prolific 3-point shooting stretch of his career

But what he’s done — especially Wednesday against the Crimson Tide — to add to his game that gives him more options to score, and in turn fewer ways to guard him.

He made only 56% of his free throws last year, and he’s up above 62% so far this year.

Over the last six games, he’s made 16 of 20 free throws. When Alabama continually fouled him and Williams on the interior, he responded on maybe the biggest stage of this season to make 9-11 free throws including 6-8 in the second half.

“Well I think the thing with Johni, again, it’s the inside-out deal,” Pearl said. “He’s a monster with his back to the basket. He just knows how to use his body. You get it in there behind him, and it’s a bucket or a foul, in a lot of ways. But then he also is such a good passer and likes the ball in his hands. And, I mean, he works — he shoots like our guards shoot in every practice and after practice. So I have great confidence in him being able to shoot the ball, and I think again, 9-for-10 from the foul line. Not trying to jinx it because we talked about it last time, but he was a 55-percent free-throw shooter last year. In conference play, he’s in the 90s.”

The evolution Pearl has seen in Broome’s game is why the fourth-year center finally won his first SEC Player of the Week honor this week.

Broome has been named to several watch lists including for the Wooden Award late season top 20 and the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.

KenPom, which has a statistical rating for national player of the year candidates, rates Broome as the second-leading contender for the award behind Purdue’s Zach Edey.

Of three SEC players in KenPom’s top 10, Broome is first. Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht is second and Alabama’s Mark Sears is third. Nationally, Broome doesn’t get the same recognition as Knecht or Broome because he doesn’t put up the same high point totals every game those players do.

Yet Broome’s contributions have been more consistent and far-reaching in the best season of his college career. He’s increased his production in several categories compared to his first year at Auburn including points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, blocks per game and steals per game.

“That tells you how hard he’s worked at it, how much he cares,” Pearl said. “And again, he understands the Auburn family. I mean, this game’s personal. This is personal. This game matters.”

Matt Cohen covers Auburn sports for AL.com. You can follow him on X at @Matt_Cohen_ or email him at mcohen@al.com

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