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A spirit that is not afraid

Century sweep: Auburn scores 100 to sweep Alabama

<p>Jabari Smith Jr. celebrates during No. 1 Auburn’s game vs. Alabama on Feb. 1, 2022, in Auburn, Ala.</p>

Jabari Smith Jr. celebrates during No. 1 Auburn’s game vs. Alabama on Feb. 1, 2022, in Auburn, Ala.

AUBURN, Ala. — It went from zero to 100 in 40 minutes.

With Wendell Green Jr. leading the charge, Auburn completed the regular-season sweep of Alabama in dominant fashion on Tuesday, taking down the Crimson Tide 100-81.

Auburn’s offense proved too powerful, the interior defense forced the Tide outside and head coach Bruce Pearl was “crane-kicking” at mid-court by the end of the night.

“This game matters, it matters to our fans,” Pearl said. “I told our guys, ‘If Alabama came in and beat us tonight, and did whatever that crane thing is that we started doing, I wouldn’t be upset by that. I’d be disappointed if [Alabama] didn’t do it.’ That’s what a rivalry is all about. I’m glad the students and the student-athletes are having fun with it.”

Although K.D. Johnson put the Tigers on the board first, Alabama came out firing from beyond the arc like it typically does. The SEC’s best 3-point shooting team made three of its first five shots from downtown, helping push its lead to 14-10 in the opening six minutes of play.

While Alabama grabbed the early lead, it also picked up several fouls along the way. In just under seven minutes, Alabama committed six fouls and sent Auburn to the line five times.

By the time that Auburn had regained the lead at 16-14 with a 6-0 run, half of the Tigers’ points had come from the free-throw line.

Green made it a 9-0 run when he took the ball off a screen from Walker Kessler, fired a three and sank it to make it 19-14. The next possession for Auburn was a Green to Kessler connection, where Kessler slammed it home.

While Kessler’s role was limited in the first matchup against Alabama due to foul trouble, the 7-foot-1 center turned in a strong outing in the second go around against the Tide. He finished the night with 14 points, 12 rebounds and fell two blocks shy of a triple-double.

“I try not to look at my stats too much, I’m just happy we got to sweep Alabama,” Kessler said. “But I would be lying if I didn’t say I kinda wanted a triple-double.”

Still, his impact down low in the paint — where the Tigers outscored Alabama 52-22 — was felt with every rim-shaking dunk.

The two plays with Green and Kessler were part of an overall 17-5 run for the Tigers, where the offense got hot and the defense forced Alabama’s shooting to go cold. Twelve minutes into the game, Auburn was shooting 47% from the field and Alabama was shooting 24%.

“Welcome to the Jungle” was playing throughout the arena as Auburn had grabbed an eight point lead, 27-19 by the under-eight minute timeout in the first half.

The lead only got bigger as Auburn was sent to the free-throw line more. Auburn was in the bonus for nearly half of the first half, where it made 16 of 20 free throws compared to Alabama’s 8 of 10.

Not to mention an 11-0 run that ensued in just over a minute, with five minutes left until halftime.

Down 19 with two minutes to go in the first, Alabama narrowed the deficit slightly before the midway point with a flurry of threes. Allen Flanigan made a pair of late free-throws for the Tigers and Auburn took a 51-37 lead into halftime.

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It was a different Alabama team to start the second half. Nate Oats’ squad showed why it’s been making noise in defeating some of the nation’s top teams — it’s offense is always ready to go on quick surges of scoring.

And it did just that.

The Crimson Tide opened the second half on an 18-6 run, closing the deficit to as little as two points. Auburn answered with its own scoring surge — an 18-3 run that pushed the lead back to the 17-point mark and the Tigers never looked back.

“We expected [Alabama] to go on a run,” Green said. “They’re an electric offensive team. We didn’t let it faze us.”

The scoring run was aided by a stepback three from Green, reigniting Auburn Arena into a hornets nest of buzzing fans.

K.D. Johnson also played his usual part in bringing the energy to the arena, when his driving layup put the lead back to double figures for the first time in several minutes. The Auburn bench stood up as he ran by with a smirk on his face, which in turn took effect on the arena.

Johnson finished with 13 points, extending his team-leading eight consecutive games scoring in double figures.

Johnson, along with Kessler and Green, joined Jabari Smith Jr. (17 points) and Flanigan (10 points) as the five Tigers in double figures Tuesday.

Auburn scored 44 points off its bench, 23 of which came from Green, something that’s been a strength for the Tigers. The 10-man rotation has been problematic for opponents all season and Tuesday was no different. Anytime a starter needed a rest, it was the next man up.

“That’s the reason that we’re so good,” Kessler said. “Our depth and our ability for when the bench comes in, there’s not a drop off. Everyone’s got their own skills and talents.”

Green’s 23 points were a career-high at Auburn for the sophomore transfer. He grabbed eight rebounds, good for second-most on the team, and led the team with six assists.

“I had a rough two past games and I knew this was a big one,” Green said. “I just wanted to come out here for my teammates and just show them that I can do what I do.”

The guard also finished a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe, contributing to the 31 made free-throws on Tuesday. It was the first time Auburn had made 30-plus made free-throws in an SEC game since it scored 36 against Missouri just over a year ago.

“The game was very physical,” Pearl said. “It helps your offensive efficiency when you’re making your free-throws.”

But the biggest free-throw and Kessler’s “favorite part of the game” came in the contest’s final minute.

As Auburn dribbled the ball down the court, 97 points on the scoreboard and 43 seconds remaining, chants of “three” rumbled from The Jungle. Fans held three fingers up as the Tigers’ walk-ons ran the offense.

It was Carter Sobera’s turn. 

The sophomore from Mountain Brook, Alabama, drove to the basket, scored a layup and a whistle was blown — a shooting foul on Alabama. Sobera headed to the line for an opportunity to put the Tigers at the century mark on his and-one attempt.

It fell through and Auburn Arena erupted.

With Rammer Jammer being played by the pep band and fans shaking their keys at Alabama players walking to the locker rooms, brooms were brought out — Auburn had swept Alabama.

“I just don’t know that I’ve ever had a team where you can take anyone of them tonight and I can tell you a story about how that kid was the player of the game,” Pearl said.

Caleb Jones | Sports Editor

Originally from Helena, Ala., Caleb Jones is a senior studying journalism at Auburn University. He has been on staff with The Plainsman since 2019.

You can follow him here on Twitter: @calebjsports

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