Harper, Auburn rally to beat rival Alabama 66-60
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Jared Harper finished both his drives and the game strong.
“I was definitely looking to attack,” Harper said. “I feel like I missed some easy layups earlier in the game so I knew coming down the stretch I was going to have to finish it. It was on me, personally. I knew coming down the stretch I was able to get to the basket as always, so I went in thinking about just finishing it and I was able to make it.”
The Tigers (21-9, 10-7 Southeastern Conference) rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to complete a season sweep of the Tide (17-13, 8-9), but this one had much more drama than the 21-point blowout at Auburn Arena.
Samir Doughty’s 3-pointer gave Auburn a 60-55 lead, its largest of the game until the final seconds. Then Alabama’s Herbert Jones answered with a layup and delivered a pass to Tevin Mack in the corner for a tying 3-pointer, making it 60-60 with 1:40 to play.
The Tide couldn’t score again.
Harper darted to the basket for a layup and another Auburn lead with 1:09 left. Kira Lewis Jr. lost his balance and the ball on a drive and Harper dribbled away most of the clock before once again heading for the basket with 18 seconds left. Doughty intercepted a pass and made two free throws with 13 seconds left.
“Kira got downhill pretty much single coverage and it looked like he slipped and just came up empty,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.
Harper, who scored 16, and Okeke both produced 11 points in the second half to lead the Tigers’ rally. Okeke matched his career-high of 14 rebounds. Auburn staged the come-from-behind win, its third victory in a row, despite an off night from leading scorer Bryce Brown. Brown was just 2 of 10, all from 3-point range, for seven points.
“Chuma Okeke was a huge difference in the game,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Everything was kind of equal out there. We had Chuma and (Jared) and I thought those two were the best players on the floor tonight. That had a lot to do with our ability to win the game.”
Lewis led the Tide with 13 points while Jones scored 11 off the bench and Mack had 10. John Petty Jr. had eight points and nine rebounds.
Auburn wiped out a 13-point deficit with an 18-2 spurt that included two stolen inbounds passes. During that span, Alabama coach Avery Johnson said, “We were just bad on both ends of the floor.”
J’Von McCormick’s basket with 9:21 left gave Auburn its first lead since the opening minutes and Anfernee McLemore followed that with a dunk.
After Harper hit a layup, Okeke swiped an inbounds pass and quickly backed up for a 3-pointer from the corner.
“I just got in the passing lane and just shot the shot because I was open,” Okeke said.
Alabama had led 36-23 after Petty hit a pair of free throws 30 seconds into the second half.
“We just didn’t have a great second half,” Johnson said. “We’ve been that way a lot this season.”
Alabama: Failed to finish off what would have been a big win for its NCAA Tournament hopes. Had won eight of the last nine meetings at Coleman Coliseum. Committed six turnovers in a 6:32 span during Auburn’s second-half comeback and 19 overall.
Auburn: Has won three straight. Entered the game in a five-way tie for the SEC’s No. 4 seed, which comes with a double bye in the league tournament. Had 22 points at the half, the team’s lowest first-half total of the season.
Auburn hosts No. 5 Tennessee on Saturday. The teams shared the SEC regular season title a year ago.
Alabama visits Arkansas in its regular season finale.