Facing the noise: Crimson Tide ready for road test at Auburn


CW/ Hannah Saad

Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

Alabama men’s basketball has struggled on the road this season, going 2-4 in opposing gyms. While the Crimson Tide has played in several hostile environments, none will be as raucous or uninviting as what awaits it in Auburn Arena on Saturday night. With thousands of fans cheering passionately against them, Alabama’s players will compete for their 14th win of the season and to beat Auburn on the road for the first time since Avery Johnson took over as coach in 2015.

Recognizing the Rivalry

It’s a common strategy of coaches in various sports to downplay rivalry games to the media. Instead of admitting that the game carries added gravitas, coaches will insist that it’s merely the next contest on the team’s schedule. But after having coached against Auburn seven times during his tenure in Tuscaloosa, Johnson has dropped that act.

“I think my first year, when somebody would ask me that question, I would say ‘No, there’s no added pressure. It’s another game and it’s another SEC game,’” Johnson said after practice on Thursday. “I’ve graduated from that. Yes, it is added. We know who we’re playing. We know where we’re playing. We understand the rivalry a bit more.”

Alabama and Auburn’s rivalry on the football field has taken center stage in recent years, as both schools have been in title contention late in the season. The hard-wood version of the rivalry hasn’t had the same national implications, but it still holds great importance inside the state’s borders. That gives each team’s players an added boost.

“It’s the Iron Bowl for basketball, so we’ll have a little bit more of an edge going into the game,” sophomore guard Herbert Jones said.

Simulating the Sound

In order to prepare his players for the crowd noise in Auburn Arena, Johnson played loud noise over the speaker system throughout practice on Thursday.

“We tried some new things today,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if you guys heard it, we piped in a bunch of noise. I know a lot of football teams do that when they’re about to go on the road so we borrowed a page out of their book. It was really, really loud in here.”

Starting forward Tevin Mack described the added noise as sounding like the ocean or a storm. Having played one season at Texas before transferring to Alabama, Mack has experienced rowdy crowds, especially Kansas’ home crowd in Fogg-Allen Fieldhouse. This will be his first time playing in Auburn Arena, but his teammates who have been there before told him what to expect.

“I heard it’s crazy,” Mack said. “I heard the student section is right there on the court, like around us, so I heard they say some crazy stuff to us before the game. We’ve got to be prepared for that mentally.”

This is the first time that Johnson has employed added noise at practice.

Limiting the Tigers Offense

Auburn is second in the SEC in scoring, averaging 84.3 points per game. Tigers’ high powered offense is predicated largely on shooting threes, and lots of them. No team in the conference attempts as many three-pointers (30.3 per game) per game as Auburn. The Tigers also make them at an impressive clip, averaging 11.1 made threes per game.

“It’s not always about the threes that they make,” Johnson said. “It’s the attempts and they had 41 attempts last night [in a 92-58 win over Missouri]. I don’t think that’s going to be good news for us if they have 41 attempts.”

The Tigers are such a high-level three-point shooting team because almost every player, besides one or two big men, are a threat from outside, according to Johnson.

In order to successfully slow down Auburn’s offense, Alabama will need two of its top defenders, Jones and center Donta Hall, to stay out of foul trouble. In the last game against Mississippi State, Johnson had to sit both Jones and Hall for extended stretches in the second half because they both had four fouls.

“I feel like we’re a better team if I’m not in foul trouble to help on the defensive end,” Jones said. “It’s kind of hard to stay aggressive like how I want to play defense with the way they sometimes call.”