By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — This time the Auburn Tigers got to celebrate at the end against their in-state rivals, mimicking the Alabama football team’s signature Karate Kid pose on the court.
Freshman Jabari Smith scored a season-high 25 points and Allen Flanigan made four straight free throws in the final 54 seconds, lifting No. 4 Auburn to an 81-77 victory over No. 24 Alabama on Tuesday night.
Auburn players on the court mimicked the celebration adopted by Alabama’s football team, which fell to Georgia in Monday night’s national championship game but won the Iron Bowl in four overtimes.
And celebrated accordingly back in November.
“That’s actually Alabama’s thing, man,” Flanigan said. “The football team did it to us. We were all right behind the end zone in the final seconds, and when he scored the touchdown they came right there to the end of the end zone and did the little karate kick. So we stole their move on them again.”
The Tigers (15-1, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) lost all of a 14-point lead before managing to avoid becoming the third Top-5 team to lose on the night. They pushed their win streak to 12 games in the rivals’ first Top 25 matchup in 35 years.
Smith’s 3-pointer gave Auburn a 73-59 lead with eight minutes left. Then Alabama (11-5, 2-2) scored the next 14 and tied it with Darius Miles’ dunk at the 4:04 mark. Flanigan, who missed the first 11 games recovering from surgery on his right Achilles, iced it at the line.
“Those balls he shot didn’t even hit the rim,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “They barely hit the net. I told him after the game, that’s all those hours in the gym with your grandfather and your father.
“You earned those free throws, and you made history tonight.”
Dylan Cardwell blocked a 3-point attempt after Flanigan’s last two foul shots with 22 seconds left. Alabama missed its final eight shots.
Wendell Green Jr. scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half for Auburn. K.D. Johnson had 13 points and eight rebounds. Flanigan finished with 10 points.
Jahvon Quinerly led Alabama with 14 points and Jaden Shackelford scored 13, with three others reaching double figures. Noah Gurley scored 11 and Keon Ellis and Darius Miles had 10 apiece.
“We needed to play our best game of the year to win that one,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We gave ourselves a chance there late and didn’t execute like we needed to down the stretch.”
Auburn center Walker Kessler fouled out with five minutes left on a charge, managing just two points and two rebounds. Cardwell helped fill the void.
It was the first time since Jan. 22, 1987 the teams met when both were ranked. No. 13 Alabama beat No. 17 Auburn 88-82 at Coleman Coliseum in that one.
The Tide’s top scorers, Shackelford and Quinerly, were a combined 8-of-33 shooting.
“We really won the game with our defense,” Pearl said. “We really won the game by getting stops. When you hold Alabama to 34 or 35% shooting … I think our defense is what saved us late.”
Auburn: Fresh from a five-spot jump in the rankings, the Tigers won in an arena where they had struggled, losing 10 of their previous 12. Auburn and Davidson are now tied for the longest current active winning streak.
Alabama: Had a 17-game win streak at Coleman Coliseum snapped. It had been the longest in 11-plus years.
Auburn had already made a big leap and could rise more depending on what happens this weekend. Stanford beat No. 5 USC 75-69 and No. 1 Baylor fell to Texas Tech, 65-62. Alabama is in danger of falling out of the rankings.
Auburn visits Mississippi Saturday night.
Alabama visits Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon.
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