TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Bruce Pearl said it more than once during the days leading up to No. 4 Auburn's rivalry bout with Alabama: "We're going to get beat."
The sixth-yearhead coach did not necessarily mean in Wednesday'sgame at Coleman Coliseum. He just meant that, eventually, it was going to happen. Losing is inevitable in college basketball. Only four teams in the last 40 yearshave finished the regular season undefeated. There hasn't been an undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976.
Pearl didn't want to be right. He definitely didn't to be right Wednesday night, across the state, against his program's biggest rival. But he was. Auburn got beat.
Alabama won, 83-64, in front of a raucous crowd inside Coleman Coliseum to knock the Tigers from the ranks of the unbeaten. San Diego State is now the only team in America without a loss on its resume.
Auburn (15-1, 3-1 SEC) never led.
"I'm very proud of my team for winning our first 15 games. I think you can see why I've been saying that we're a good, and I've yet to say that we're a very good team," Pearl said. "If you thought that was posturing, it really wasn't.
"To be able to beat a good team like Alabama on their home floor, you got to play very good. And we didn't even come close."
Here are three takeaways:
Auburn has made a habit of starting slow this season, on both ends of the court. Over its last eight games entering Wednesday, it had made just 36.9% shots through the first 10 minutes of the game while allowing opponents to shoot 48.8%.
But that slow start had never really held the Tigers back much, at least not since a Dec. 5 game against Furman where it had to erase a 14-point second-half deficit just to win in overtime.
Alabama (9-7, 2-2 SEC) proved a much tougher test than the Paladins. And Auburn's start was much, much worse.
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The Tigers went into halftime trailing 36-27, and it was only that close because freshman Isaac Okoro was able to go on a personal 5-0 run in the final minute. The freshman wing shot 5 of 6 in the first half. The rest of the team shot just 4 of 23.
Auburn missed its first 10 attempts from beyond the arc and turned the ball over 12 times already more than it averaged over its previous five full games (11.8). And only two of those were steals. The Crimson Tideflipped those turnovers into 11 points.
"We didn't do what we were supposed to do. I'll take part of that blame," said senior center Austin Wiley, who recorded his seventh double-double of the season with 10 points and 13 rebounds. "I didn't get my guys ready to play like we were supposed to. I didn't play good at all. We just got to take accountability."
So often this season, Auburn has dug in after that slow start. Over those same last eight games, it outscored opponents by 90 points after those first 10 minutes. But the switch never flipped Wednesday.
The Tigers got to within two points a little more than five minutes into the second half. The Crimson Tide responded with a 19-8 run.The 19-point margin of victory represents Auburn's largest deficit at any point this season.
"If we had come back, we would have stole it, because we weren't playing well," Pearl said.
Three of the Tigers' biggest strengths entering Wednesday's game were their ability to score efficiently inside, their ability to take care of the ball and their ability to defend the paint.
Those were three things it did not do particularly well against Alabama.
Auburn missed a lot of open looks inside and finished just 11 of 25 on layup/dunk attempts (44%). That's well below the team's average of 57.1%, which ranked fourth nationally.
"They did a good job contesting shots at the rim. Of course, we have to finish. We didn't finish good at all tonight," Wiley said. "But they did a good job of running us off the 3 and having us attack, and we just didn't finish the play."
Auburn hadn't turned the ball over more than 17 times since that overtime win over Furman. On Wednesday, it committed 21, which ties theseason-high set in the opener against Georgia Southern. Alabama scored 24 points off them in a game it won by 19.
"To turn the ball over as many times as we did; we really struggled to execute," Pearl said. "We didn't have a lot of complicated things in, but we didn't execute the stuff we had in, and as a result, we got beat badly."
Many of those points off turnovers were scored inside. The Crimson Tide outscored the Tigers 34-22 in the paint and made 17 of 28 layup/dunk attempts (60.1%). Auburn entered the game ranked 62nd nationally allowing opponents to shoot only 45.1% inside.
Alabama point guard Kira Lewis Jr. scored a game-high 25points, making 7 of 12 shots from inside the arc and 8 of 9 free throws.
#HeadbandSamir has been a fun storyline for this Auburn team all season. The senior guard first put it on during the third game of the season and has worn it ever since. He has played incredibly well with it, too, leading the team scoring 15.7 points per game.
But about midway through the first half Saturday, Doughty ripped that headband off. The mojo was no longer working.
The senior guard played maybe his worst game of the season Wednesday, scoring just six points on 2-for-11 shooting and committing seven turnovers before fouling out. Pearl told the Auburn Sports Network after the game that Doughty tweaked his Achilles tendon during the first half, and it affected him the rest of the night.
"First play of the game, we got him downhill, got to the rim and didn't finish, and I think that probably just got us set off in a bad way," Pearl said.
Doughty wasn't the only player that struggled. Wiley made only 2 of 6 shots inside. Point guard J'Von McCormick scored only five points on 2-for-8 shooting. Okoro led the team with 13 points, but missed all five shot attempts after halftime. Jamal Johnson played perhaps the best game of anyone on the team, scoring 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
"We were really sloppy offensively. Spacing, timing, feel," Pearl said. "We don't just shoot it well enough offensively to make up for what we don't execute or space, and it caught up to us tonight."