Auburn Wins Overtime Thriller in Legacy Arena
Jared Harper had 31 points against UAB (photo: Cat Wofford/USA TODAY Sports)
It was almost one of those wins that really didn’t feel like a win. For a second, many an Auburn basketball fan’s first reaction to the overtime win over UAB was, “A bad and ugly win.” Some fans even took it a step further pronouncing, “Maybe Auburn isn’t as good as we thought.”
One can’t blame them one bit, at least in the immediate aftermath. Out-manned and out-gunned UAB laid every ounce of energy on the court for as long as it could. Unlike other teams that Auburn has faced in this young season, it was enough to get to overtime. While the 75–71 score looks close, once overtime began, Auburn wasn’t in jeopardy of losing.
Before diving into the Tigers and, specifically, the heroics of diminutive Jared Harper, let’s take a second to talk about the UAB Blazers, the rivalry between the Blazers and Tigers, and keeping this matchup each and every year.
The Blazers aren’t exactly playing great basketball this year. Some could say with Auburn and Alabama being down the last few years that UAB was the best program in the state of Alabama. Obviously, that isn’t the case with Bruce Pearl and the work he’s done in Auburn. Even before Pearl, Auburn owned a lengthy winning streak against the Blazers.
Despite not even coming close against Florida State and Memphis earlier this year, Blazer fans showed up at Legacy Arena as more than just a fired up 50%-of-the-crowd. They came out to do much more than represent “the other side” of the Mike Slive Invitational. The Blazers came to win, and win they almost did.
Auburn fans may not be pleased with how the game went Saturday night, nor should they. Auburn simply wasn’t very good. But, Auburn fans should feel really good about coming away with a win against a super-motivated team that may not have shot the lights out but hit every single shot it had to take the Tigers to the brink.
UAB shot just 31 percent from long-range, but don’t take that at face value. Guard Jalen Perry was 4–8 from downtown, and when he wasn’t on the floor, Jeremiah Bell stepped right into his shoes, hitting 3–7. The rest of the Blazers were a paltry 2–13. The game had more lead changes than Auburn’s entire young season. Yet, there were moments along the way when it felt as if Auburn had done in UAB for good, but one of its guards came right down the floor to bury a three ball.
And, for yet another game, an Auburn opponent worked over the Tigers on the glass. While Auburn still had more offensive rebounds than UAB, the Blazers were able to have put-backs. It’s hard to point to that as one of the reasons that UAB stayed in this game, considering Auburn out-rebounded UAB 40–39, but it never should have been that close. Auburn has a trio of big men who should be able to play with anyone in the country, bar none. Instead, it was an even split with a team that really shouldn’t have any business competing with the Top 10 Tigers.
Auburn continued its tendency of …
not dominating the boards this season. However, rebounding wasn’t statistically the reason this game went to overtime. It may just be who the Tigers are. But, something the Tigers are not is a poor shooting team.
Auburn was 18 percent from long range. It was a pitiful effort from downtown, almost as bad as the overall 38 percent shooting. Bryce Brown is the man who controls that long range shooting, and he was 0–6. While I can’t say for certain, that may be the worst effort he’s had as a Tiger. Anytime your center has the best long-range percentage, you would expect to have lost.
But the Tigers didn’t.
Auburn did the one thing that every great team does: it hit free throws. Specifically, Jared Harper hit free throws. As a team, Auburn made nearly 80 percent of the whopping 34 charity-stripe tries while UAB was just over 50 percent on 11 attempts. Playing from behind in the waning moments of the game and the entire overtime, the Blazers had to foul and slow down the clock. Facing that strategy, Coach Bruce Pearl did what any smart coach does: manufacture ways to get the ball into the hands of the best free-throw shooter. In this case, that also happens to be the point guard, Harper, who is 91 percent on the year.
In a game where Auburn couldn’t hit the proverbial “broad side of a barn,” UAB hit every single clutch shot. But, Harper continued a free-throw pace that simply didn’t seem humanly possible. He was 15–16 on the night with much of that coming in overtime. Auburn scored 12 points in overtime, ten of those were scored by Harper, and six of the ten were at the stripe where Harper was a perfect 6–6. Go back and read those two sentences again.
UAB had four players in double digits. Auburn had just two: Harper and Chuma Okeke. Okeke had an efficient night, hitting 4–6 shooting, was 3–4 from the line, and kicked in two blocks. But, he also had three turnovers.
Saturday saw the long-awaited return of Danjel Purifoy. He played just seven minutes but scored two points and added one of Auburn’s two steals. Auburn had ten turnovers and caused 13. It wasn’t quite the disparity that Auburn has had in past games, but it was just enough, as were the seven blocks, three by Austin Wiley to lead the team.
Up next is a matchup with massive implications as Auburn goes on the road to play North Carolina State on Wednesday. The ESPN matchup predictor gives the Wolfpack a 65 percent chance to win this game. The ‘Pack may be unranked but sport a 9–1 record and are undefeated at home. The two teams are essentially gridlocked in almost every measurable stat except one: blocks. Auburn has a huge edge, but blocks are one of those incredibly streaky things. Can Auburn’s big men do it again?
Torin Dorn leads the way at his guard position, averaging 16 points per game. He is shooting almost 46 percent from long range and has hit double-digit scores in every game he’s played. Expect Dorn to get a heavy dose of Bryce Brown. Amazingly, Dorn leads the Wolfpack in rebounds. Can he beat out Chuma Okeke, who leads the Tigers? Can Auburn improve on cutting down on second-chance points? Will Brown have enough in the tank from defending to be a factor? Will Purifoy get more than seven minutes?
The answers will come Wednesday night. Tune in at 6:00 PM on ESPN2.