This and That On an Auburn Friday
Austin Wiley led a ferocious Auburn inside defense!
(AP Photo/Julie Bennett)
War Eagle, everybody! What a great Friday this is for Auburn Tiger fans. Last night, Auburn hosted the North Carolina State Wolfpack in men’s basketball and came away with a hard fought 79–73 victory. In the past, in a home game like this with the student body home for the holidays, one would expect a sparse crowd. That goes doubly for the late 8:00 PM tipoff. Instead, it was a hard sellout, standing-room-only game. That’s further evidence on how much this team has won over Auburn supporters.
The game itself was a physical fight. The Wolfpack ran a ton of ball-screens, and Auburn had to fight to stay on point on defense. Most teams give up in that instance and switch to zone defense. Auburn stayed man-to-man the whole game, and it paid off down the stretch. Neither team backed down, and the officials called a whopping 50 fouls. Auburn’s depth prevailed as it was able to spread 22 fouls among 9 players, and no Tiger fouled out. By comparison, 2 of NC State’s best players were gone for the final 5 minutes.
This year’s edition of Auburn roundball isn’t the sharp-shooting monster last year’s team was, but this year’s Tigers are much stronger in the lane. Center Austin Wiley is playing the best ball of his career right now. Wiley finished this game with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 3 steals in just 19 minutes. I suppose that the coaches are trying to take it easy on Wiley due to injuries in the past. Fortunately, Auburn has the veteran Anfernee McLemore, who can give Auburn valuable minutes off the bench.
Last season when Auburn desperately needed points, the plan was usually to get the ball to Bryce Brown and let him take shots. This season, that role has fallen to Samir Doughty. Doughty was known more as a gritty defender in the past but has been scoring at will, lately. Doughty led all scorers last night with 24 points, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and got 9 important points out of 12 shots at the free throw line.
If there is a concern about this year’s team, it is at the free throw line. Several teams that have unexpectedly played Auburn close have used a “hack-a-shaq” defensive philosophy on Auburn ball handlers, fouling them constantly and hoping for misses at the line. Against North Carolina State, Auburn hit 23 of 36 free throw attempts, or 63.8 percent. NC State hit 12 of 20 free throws, and that was the difference in the game. For the season, Auburn has hit just 63.4 percent at the charity stripe. I surely hope the team spends the Christmas break practicing free throws every day.
Auburn has a short turnaround this week. The Tigers will host Lehigh Saturday afternoon at 5:00 PM at Auburn Arena. Auburn has never faced this team from the Patriot League before. Lehigh is just 3–7 this season, and Auburn should win this game easily unless fatigue becomes a factor. Thes game will be televised on the SEC Network. I also note that in the Birmingham area Auburn’s radio broadcast has apparently moved to 94.5 FM, which has one of the best signals in the Tragic City. I really enjoyed clear audio during the Iron Bowl and during last night’s game against North Carolina State.
I always enjoy watching awards season and getting to see which players are recognized in football nationally. Hats off to Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, who was a consensus All-American this season. I don’t think we’ve ever had a finer young man come through the program, either. Brown was joined on the defensive line by fellow senior end Marlon Davidson, who also made several All-America teams. Both Brown and Davidson were first-team All-SEC selections.
Picking up All-SEC honors on the second team were K. J. Britt at linebacker, Christian Tutt as a return specialist, and Prince Tega Wanagho at left offensive tackle. Finally, quarterback Bo Nix was named to the All-SEC Freshman team and was also named the SEC Freshman of the year. The future is bright for this football team!