Tigers Notch “Worst Loss” Of Pearl’s Tenure
USA TODAY Sports
Following back-to-back SEC wins against Alabama and Mississippi State, Auburn suddenly found itself back in the post-season play discussion. A win against Ole Miss would vault the Tigers into sixth place in the SEC and a prime spot to make a deep run in Nashville before trying to parlay success into the post season. A third straight SEC win would be a first in coach Bruce Pearl’s tenure at Auburn; a vast departure from a year ago when the Tigers won just five SEC games, with twelve such wins overall since Pearl arrived on the Plains.
“We’ve got to be accountable about this one right here,” Pearl said. “This is the most disappointing loss of my career here at Auburn: 63 points in the second half [by Ole Miss].”
Those that have followed the Tigers closely had an uneasy feeling heading into Saturday’s game after watching the Tigers bleed a 20-point first half lead against Mississipp State and allowing the Bulldogs to close within just six points before closing them out. This isn’t a new occurrence for the young Tigers. There have been several story lines that have grown old throughout the season, whether it is Austin Wiley arriving in December or Anfernee McLemore’s decision not to attend an Ivy League school. None have become as stale than Auburn’s youth leading to letdowns, even if 100% accurate.
Multiple times this season, Auburn has come off a big win to lose big in the next game. The Tigers beat Alabama only to lose by 30 points to South Carolina and got a win over a good TCU team in Forth Worth before getting run out of the gym by Tennessee for the third straight time.
The loss to Ole Miss was a new low for the young program. For the second game in a row, Auburn had a 20-point halftime lead after playing its best half of basketball this season. Playing a complete game for perhaps the first time in Pearl’s tenure, Auburn came out after the break and extended the lead to 23 before Ole Miss laid an astounding 63 second-half points on the Tigers. Auburn limited the Rebel’s big man, Sebastian Saiz, in the first half, and more importantly, Ole Miss’ third leading scorer, Terence Davis, had zero points at the break. It was Davis who came out molten-lava hot after the break, scoring 26 points, nearly as much as the Tiger team’s 37 points in the second half.
While Mustapha Heron extended his record for consecutive 10-point outings and backup guard Ronnie Johnson chipped in a career-high 18 points, it was the 20 turnovers that spelled doom for Auburn. Every Auburn starter committed at least two turnovers with Johnson having a team high four turnovers. It wasn’t nearly as much about Ole Miss’ defense as it was Auburn’s inattentive play in the second half, leading to a 2:1 turnover ratio between Auburn and Ole Miss. Players on the Auburn bench could be seen shaking their heads in disbelief. The Tigers’ second half play was nothing short of atrocious.
It took Ole Miss neither the entire second half to cut the lead nor a buzzer-beater comeback. Quite the opposite. The Rebels took the lead with over five minutes left to play and extended the lead to seven points at one point. It took a late run for the Tigers to close the gap.
The late run may have been the most infuriating part for Auburn fans. After laying an egg for the half and giving up the lead, the Tigers suddenly found rhythm, closing the game to within two points on two occasions. Still, terrible shot selection in the closing seconds forced Auburn to send Ole Miss to the line where it was 27–31 for the day, and the Rebels hit every single attempt down the stretch. Auburn, on the other hand, went to the line just eight times on the night.
Auburn was equal to Ole Miss in almost every category but turnovers and free throws. That made all the difference.
Auburn faces off against No. 17 Florida at home on Valentines Day. The game will tip off at 6:00 P.M. Central time on the SEC Network.