Auburn fans were mystified by what happened last week when the Tigers opened SEC play in The Pavilion against Ole Miss. Sitting at No. 11 in the country, the Tigers held a 65 percent chance to beat Ole Miss, according to the ESPN BPI. However, Auburn came out flat after an 11-day layover and never led the Rebels.
Coach Bruce Pearl isn’t one to make excuses and typically puts the onus exactly where it belongs. Despite usually holding his team accountable, he spoke about the effects of such a long layover between Auburn’s last nonconference game and the SEC opener. There’s no doubt that being the last team in the SEC to start conference play hurt and that it is nearly impossible to replicate game situations. Still, Auburn didn’t just look like a team needing to get back in the swing of things, the team looked lost.
That was most evident in the front court where Auburn should be one of the best teams in the country. This conversation should start and end with Austin Wiley, supposedly a legitimate NBA first rounder. Pearl, understandably, brought Wiley along slowly at the beginning of the year, but when it was time for the big man to shine, he didn’t just look out of place for a potential NBA player, he looked lost as an SEC center.
Sure, Auburn wasn’t good from beyond the arc as the Tigers went a combined 36 percent. They were even worse from inside the arc and in the paint, where Wiley and Anfernee McLemore were a combined 0–8 and Horace Spencer was 2–4 off the bench. Auburn had just six points in the paint all game. The Tigers desperately needed to recover from a combined 9–28 three-point stat from guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown sank seven long balls, but he was essentially chunking up prayers late in the game.
There were other struggles, namely the Tigers 9–17 stat from the charity stripe. Still, even if Auburn hit those other eight free throws, they still wouldn’t have won. Credit the Ole Miss staff for implementing a fantastic game plan that kept Auburn’s guards from never having the ability to get a clean look from the outside. The Rebels put tremendous pressure on Auburn’s guards as they crossed in to their half-court offense.
Going into this game, the average fan would say that Auburn’s front court, with its talent and depth, should be good enough to take care of that kind of pressure. Yet the big men, Wiley in particular, have had tremendous trouble in handling the basketball and being out-timed on the boards. Without the big men able to control the paint, Auburn fell by 15.
The SEC is off to a strange start as Ole Miss took down No. 15 Mississippi State, and Bama took down Kentucky. There were upsets throughout the NCAA this weekend, and Auburn’s bounce back against UGA likely will help keep the Tigers from dropping too far in the rankings.
Welcoming Georgia for the home SEC opener inside Auburn Arena, the Tigers put on a show for fans as they laid a 93–78 second half beatdown on the ‘Dogs.
Auburn cleaned up almost all of the issues that plagued it against Ole Miss, starting with a 12–25 three-point stat, good enough for 47 percent. The Tigers shot a 76 percent mark from the line on a 14–17 performance. Inside the arc, the Tigers were a much improved 34–68. The trio of Wiley, McLemore and Spencer were 12–20.
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