Tide finishes strong against Auburn

With solid performances from the young, old and a little in between, the Alabama men’s basketball team capped off perhaps its best week all season by defeating in-state rival Auburn 73-61 on Senior Day in from of 15,383 in Coleman Coliseum Saturday.

“Our guys showed great fight,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. “I thought our defense was outstanding today, and it was a great win for our team.”

Freshman Tony Mitchell led all Crimson Tide scorers with 16, while senior Mikhail Torrance and junior Chris Hines each contributed 13. Torrance also snagged 12 rebounds to earn a double-double.

Torrance had his own rousing finale, hitting four consecutive free throws on a combination personal/technical foul before stealing the ensuing Auburn possession and laying in a shot to knot six points in approximately five seconds of game time to ice a 16-point Tide lead with 53 seconds remaining.

“You couldn’t ask for anything more,” Torrance said. “To come out and be a senior and this be your last regular-season game, I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”

The Tide’s three seniors, Torrance, Anthony Brock and Greg Cage, all earned the start in their final game at Coleman Coliseum. It was the first start of Cage’s career, and he took advantage, scoring an early bucket before giving way to Mitchell. With the game in hand and the clock winding down near the end of the contest, Cage also scored the final Tide points on a hard-fought lay up.

“I was so happy for him because he comes into practice every day with a great attitude and never complains about anything,” Torrance said.

The victory Saturday marked the end of a four-game losing skid to the Tigers and gives the Crimson Tide an extra shot of momentum heading into Thursday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

“I think a team like [us] can be a scary team to go into the tournament and play,” Torrance said. “We finally, at the right point in the season, understand what it takes to close out games.

“This is the perfect time for us.”

There was a scary moment for Tide fans in the opening minutes when Mitchell appeared to suffer an injury. After a spectacular alley-oop on a dish by Anthony Brock, Mitchell sprinted down the court on the Auburn fast break to knock the ball out of bounds. Mitchell appeared to land awkwardly and exited the game at the 15:12 mark of the first half, with the Tide and Tigers tied at eight.

“I landed on my wrist,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been having a trouble with it… it’ll be ready for the SEC Tournament.”

The Tide and Tigers continued a relatively even first half, with neither side able to establish a clear advantage. With 9:24 left until halftime, recently reinstated sophomore forward JaMychal Green was involved in the first of three technical fouls administered in the contest, getting into a heated on-court debate with Auburn’s Ty Armstrong with Alabama holding a 17-12 lead, its largest of the first half.

“I think the players competed hard and played hard,” Grant said. “I was told that maybe I was close to getting one… So I don’t know, maybe there was a little more emotion in the air tonight.”

Coming out of the halftime break with a 31-30 lead, the Tide defense clamped down, with the Tigers scoring a mere 17 points on 6-of-27 shooting in the first 17:30 of the second half while building up a game-high lead of 71-55 before subbing out the starters.

“They are really good defensively and they match up pretty well with us,” Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo said. “Their perimeter defense was pretty stout.”

With the Tide win and several other upsets in the conference, Alabama earns a Western Division four-seed and will face South Carolina in a rematch of last Thursday’s 79-70 Tide victory in Columbia, S.C. Tipoff is scheduled for Thursday at noon and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

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