Auburn basketball was eager and prepared to take on Collin Sexton and the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday night.
When the game started, however, the freshman point guard was sitting on the sideline with an abdominal injury. The Tigers were sluggish and sloppy.
Alabama, even without its star leading scorer, opened hot on its home floor — and would only heat up throughout the night. Freshman guard John Petty stepped up behind the 3-point line while Auburn fell into some of its old, problematic habits.
In the end, Auburn would squander away several chances to seize a win, even playing poorly. Here are the three key takeaways from Auburn’s tough loss in Tuscaloosa:
Getting off on the right foot, starting now
Auburn, for whatever reasons, has had a difficult time putting two complete halves together and it was a problem again on Wednesday night.
The Tigers started out 1-for-10 from the field. There seemed to be a lack of intensity on the defensive and offensive ends. Play was sloppy. Shot selection was poor. Really, the only reason Auburn didn’t get itself into foul trouble early on was because the Tigers benefitted from a several missed calls that went their way.
Comparatively, Alabama kicked off the game by shooting 40 percent (10-of-25) from the field and 42 percent from downtown (5-of-12) without point guard Collin Sexton on the court. It would end up being the kind of night where shots just fell for the Tide and Auburn couldn’t match the offensive effort.
In the weeks to come it’s imperative that Auburn figures out how to play well at the beginning, during the middle and to end both halves. Bruce Pearl’s team has proven it’s capable of coming back when facing a deficit to a good team, but allowing a team to take a lead because of self-inflicted mistakes? That creates problems, especially if it becomes a reoccurring issue.
In this case, Auburn allowed Alabama to get up and had too many missteps to overcome. If the Tigers are able to make their way to March, good NCAA tournament teams will make Bruce Pearl’s team pay for every minute they waste getting going.
A costly, yet valuable teaching moment
There’s no doubt that the Tigers prepared to face an Alabama team led by Sexton. What they got was a Crimson Tide squad inspired by John Petty.
Heading into the mid-week game, Bruce Pearl said lots of guys would rotate on Sexton, with Bryce Brown taking the matchup in late-game situations. Whether it was Brown Jared Harper or freshman point guard Davion Mitchell — someone needed to step up and defend a hot-handed shooter in Coleman Coliseum.
Petty went into this game averaging just 11.7 points per game. Against Auburn, the freshman dropped 27 points. It forced Auburn to chip away at a double-digit lead for most of the second half, but it was also, in at least one way, a small positive.
It’s almost a guarantee that Auburn’s guards will be watching a lot of film of Petty burning them. If there was ever a time to allow a single player to go off, it’s with enough conference games left to recover and keep it from happening again.
The real test starts now
Alabama ended Auburn’s winning streak and handed the Tigers their first SEC loss. In other words, it was the worst possible scenario for Pearl’s team.
Petty shot the lights out. That won’t happen every night. Auburn, whether fatigued, unfocused or a combination of the two, played about as bad as they have all season long.
For example, according to the SEC Network crew calling the game, there was discussion about how much Auburn had improved from the free throw line. On Tuesday, Auburn was 14-of-22.
It will be considered a bad loss for Auburn, but it’s not the worst loss — yet.
Auburn hosts Georgia on Saturday night in Auburn Arena. The loss to Alabama was frustrating. Playing about as bad as they could, the Tigers lost by five points. Now the question is whether or not Auburn can make the little corrections and get back on track. There’s lots of conference games left against very talented teams. The Tuesday loss won’t be devastating, unless it has an impact in the coming weeks.