For the third straight game, Auburn found itself tied after regulation. And for the third straight game, it walked away with a victory.
Freshman Isaac Okoro scored 19 points, Austin Wiley had 18, a career-high 17 rebounds and five blocks, and No. 11 Auburn held on to beat rival Alabama 95-91 in overtime Wednesday night inside Auburn Arena.
The Tigers (22-2, 9-2 SEC) never trailed Wednesday and didn't panic in the extra period, surviving in overtime to win their seventh straight game and avenge the 83-64 loss to Alabama earlier in the season. It was the fourth overtime game in the last five games for Auburn, and Wednesday night's win over the in-state rival moved the Tigers to 5-0 on the season when the game goes to overtime.
The Tigers took control of first place in the conference Saturday, and needed a win to hold that lead with LSU beating Missouri Tuesday night.
“Typically, when you play Alabama, it's all about the rivalry,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “It's all about Auburn and Alabama, it's about the Iron Bowl, it's about two schools in the state that compete. This one wasn't about that. It was about Auburn trying to stay alive in a championship race.”
Of late, Auburn has been the team surging with second-half comebacks but Wednesday night, it was the home team who blew a double-digit lead. Alabama, who started off the game in a 16-point hole, battled back all night, knocking down an SEC-record 22 3-pointers and forced overtime when John Petty Jr. buried a contested 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to tie it up, 81-81.
In the overtime period, without Okoro who left the game before the end of regulation with a hamstring injury, it was senior Samir Doughty who willed the Tigers across the finish line. Doughty scored four of the team's first six points in the extra period and finished with 18 points on the night.
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It was Doughty's seventh straight game in double figures.
“I feel like when we're in overtime, that's always advantage us, despite our opponent, because we put in a lot of work in the offseason," Doughty said. "We're built for moments like that."
Wiley, a senior and Birmingham native playing in what is likely his final Iron Bowl, finished with a season-high in points (18) on 6 of 9 shooting and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds, leading Auburn to a 60-44 edge on the boards. The 6-foot-11 center also threw down an emphatic, two-handed slam in the final minutes of overtime to make it a two-possession game and extend Auburn's lead to 93-88.
“In our family, we have to beat Alabama,” Wiley said. “It’s special to be able to do that my senior year.”
The Tigers looked like a team seeking redemption from a previous 19-point loss, jumping out to a 16-0 lead before the first media timeout. Senior Anfernee McLemore, who started his third game of the season in place of Danjel Purifoy, led the charge, knocking down two quick 3-pointers and scored the team's first eight points. He finished with 13 and added seven rebounds.
The Crimson Tide battled back, however, knocking down nine 3s and cutting the lead to 44-41 heading into halftime.
“Hard to play them man-to-man because we were so much bigger and they were so much smaller,” Pearl said. “They spread us and shot us so we played a lot of zone. They did make 22 but they did miss 37. They only had eight two-point baskets so we had the advantage on the inside and they had the advantage on the outside. Two high character teams and a pretty memorable game.”
Out of the break, the focal point seemed to be feeding Okoro. The freshman was aggressive, and began to take over the game in the second half before having to be helped off the court and taken to the locker room for an apparent hamstring injury with 1:44 left in regulation. He did not return but finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, one shy of a double-double.
Auburn led by seven points with 5:04 left, but went 0 of 8 from the floor and 2 of 6 from the free-throw line to finish the game, giving Alabama the opportunity to extend the game. The Tide finished 22 of 59 from beyond the arc.
"We’ve got to keep grinding. One thing I’m confident about is this team will get ready to play seven more times in the regular season. We will. But I’ve got to figure out a way for us to play better basketball,” Pearl said. “Because right now all we’re able to do is just be good enough to get into overtime and have enough character to win it.”
Freshman Devan Cambridge was the Tigers' fifth player to score in double figures, adding 10 and making a pair of 3-pointers, and J'Von McCormick finished with nine points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
McCormick calmly sunk two free throws with 18 seconds left in overtime to seal the game.
Alabama (13-11) fell to 1-4 versus Top 25 teams this season but were able respond again and again, behind record-setting performances from Kira Lewis and Jaden Shackelford. Shackelford led the Tide with seven 3s and 28 points and Lewis became the first player in SEC history to record a triple-double in a loss since 1996. Lewis finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.
Petty also added six 3s of his own.
"We just have to figure out how to get stops and figure out how to play a full 40 minutes," Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. "We're capable of beating anyone in the league when we're playing for 40 minutes. It just didn't happen tonight."
Auburn visits Missouri Saturday. The game is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN2.
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