TUSCALOOSA _ When the ball went in and the University of Alabama men's basketball team escaped with a 51-49 victory over Auburn, the players naturally celebrated Wednesday night at Coleman Coliseum.
They jumped over one another at midcourt, hugged junior forward JaMychal Green after his tip-in with .3 seconds remaining and smiled all the way to the locker room. The Crimson Tide's amazing run continued, notching its 14th win in 16 games, and on Tuesday will visit Florida to almost certainly decide the Southeastern Conference regular-season title.
But one has to wonder what was said when that locker room door was closed, especially considering how fortunate Alabama (19-8, 11-2 SEC) had been.
"I've had a chance to watch the game and like we talked about last night I thought Auburn came in and did a very good job with their defensive game plan, it caused us some problems obviously," Coach Anthony Grant said Thursday afternoon. "We had a sub-par night offensively, but I think you have to give Auburn credit.
"The second-half defense really won the game for us."
Nevertheless, it was easily the Crimson Tide's worst performance offensively since the St. Peter's loss at the Paradise Jam on Nov. 22, which is still haunting this team and continues to hinder its chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Even in that nightmarish loss the Tide shot 32.5 percent.
Against Auburn it made just 11 field goals. To help put that into perspective, the record for fewest field goals in an NCAA Tournament game is eight, by Springfield in a 48-24 loss to Indiana in 1940. It, and the 12.7 shooting percentage, are the oldest surviving tournament records - with the 45-second shot clock introduced for the 1985-85 season, and reduced to 35 seconds in 1993-94.
"I just think we did not come out ready to play at the end of the day," freshman guard Trevor Releford said. "They had a little bit of pressure, but nothing like we haven't seen in the SEC before so I think if we would have come out more focused, we would have knocked more shots down and we wouldn't have been in that predicament."
The numbers more than back that up as only two players, Green (4-for-11) and sophomore Andrew Steele (2-for-5) shot better than the team average of 26.2 percent, but they struggled some at the free-throw line. Green was 9 of 14, and Steele missed four straight to finish 3 of 7.
Here's everyone else shooting numbers: Tony Mitchell 1-7 Chris Hines 1-4 Trevor 1-4 Charvez Davis 0-7 Chris Hankerson 1-2 Senario Hillman 1-2
Consequently, even Green had to admit afterward that it was an "ugly" win, but that's the way Auburn's games have gone this season. Its closest SEC losses were this one, 45-40 to Florida on Jan. 20, and 62-55 to LSU after it led 32-6 at halftime. All three were extremely physical games and Auburn had four players foul out against Alabama.
"It's the lowest point total in Coach (Billy) Donovan's career," Grant said. "They've had a lot of success in the way they defended, not just us, but I think everybody. You look at the Georgia game going overtime, they played Vanderbilt awfully tough at their place. They're good, a very good defensive team."
Grant wouldn't be blamed if he had watched the game film and then banned it from ever being shown again in the building, but Saturday's opponent, Ole Miss (17-11, 5-8 SEC), probably didn't get much out of it either except that it was another team that dared Alabama to hit shots from the outside.
The Rebels tried their own version of that on Feb. 12, when the Tide gave up most of a 23-point lead in the second half, when it made just six field goals, but pulled out a 74-64 victory.
"Obviously the challenge for us going into their building," Grant said "We won the first game so it's an added incentive for them, just in terms of trying to get a win and everything's that at stake.