Tigers Came Up Short in First Home Loss
Auburn's Bryce Brown is doubtful for the upcoming Georgia game after injuring his shoulder attempting a dunk against Texas A&M (photo: Julie Bennett/al.com)
Auburn basketball fans had cause for concern when Auburn took on Texas A&M at home Wednesday night. While the Tigers have been perfect at home and achieved an astronomical eighth place national ranking, they’ve been far from perfect in most games. However, thus far they overcame essentially all odds, but it was too tough against a red-hot Aggie team.
Just a few weeks ago, the Tigers showed they were vulnerable to slow, inside play against legit big men. Though Auburn won some games that put that vulnerability on tape, it seemed inevitable that someone would be able to exploit the hole in Auburn’s defense. Although neither Anfernee McLemore or Horace Spencer fit the role of “big man,” they have done an admirable job thus far. McLemore has all the jumping talent in the world, which is why he is one of the tops in the nation at blocking shots, but when D-ing up against a posted player where jumping is useless, he doesn’t have the answers. The same could be said for Spencer, who is a good defender but doesn’t have McLemore’s scoring ability.
Instead of holding Auburn to 60 or so points by slowing down the pace and making it manageable, the Aggies kicked it up for large stretches and were able to put up 81 points on the Tigers. Yet when TAMU needed to slow down, it did. And they did so by looping passes to 6-10 center, Tyler Davis. He didn’t have a huge night, but he did hit over his 14-point average (15). Davis also was credited for two of TAMU’s three blocks. That number isn’t reality. Auburn tried over and over to force its way to the rim over Davis. Time after time, the shots were blocked, deflected, or the ball was stolen. Mustpaha Heron and Desean Murray combined for six turnovers, all of them at the rim trying to force bad shots. Auburn ended the night with 14 turnovers to TAMU’s 16.
There were other storylines. Although the Aggies only shot 54 percent, they decimated the Tigers on the offensive glass. Every time Auburn would climb back from a deficit and get a TAMU miss, the Aggies pulled the ball down and reset the shot clock. In all, the Aggies had 11 second chances.
The biggest story line though was Auburn’s losing its leading scorer, Bryce Brown, in the first half. After exiting the game he was on the bench in street clothes for the second half. The loss didn’t kill Auburn’s chances, but it certainly took away Auburn’s best threat to win the game on a buzzer beater. That honor fell to Heron, who banged one off the front iron to end the game. Still, Heron had 28 points and we can’t criticize him too much.
Auburn didn’t have a great game from beyond the arc, and every time the Tigers closed the gap, they elected to take a long shot with only 33 percent success. On the other hand TAMU hit 50 percent of its nine long balls.
The loss is hard to stomach for Auburn fans as it torpedoed any chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. According to most sources, it sank Auburn from a 2- to a 3-seed.
Obviously, the loss was tough, but Auburn didn’t quit despite losing its leading scorer and playing a sloppy game. The Tigers had chances to win at the end but couldn’t overcome a couple of quasi-bad calls and one back-breaking moment that sent TAMU to the line to sink the game winning points.
After tying the game, TAMU drove the lane where Chuma Okeke was waiting to take the charge. His back heel was barely touching the line of the neutral area arc and, though he had perfect form and position, he was called for a foul.
Suddenly, a hot Tennessee team is a single game behind Auburn as the Tigers travel to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. As it has been all season, stopping the Dawgs’ Yante Maten is the name of the game as the rivals tip Saturday at 2:30 on the SEC Network.