Tigers Vanquish Vandy, Texas A&M Presents Next Challenge
Bryce Brown's 25 points led all scorers in the win against Vanderbilt (photo: Julie Bennett/al.com)
Saturday night, two teams took the court inside Auburn Arena and neither looked the part of its traditional role. Vanderbilt has historically been a terrific program. Auburn, well, ESPN and SEC Network crews love to show a graphic highlighting the limited success Auburn has had in basketball. Things are different in 2018, and it isn’t just that the Commodores are down.
Auburn isn’t just a feel good story of an NCAA bubble team coming from nowhere to play in the big dance. The Tigers are not only going to make the tournament, they have a very real chance to be a one seed. A few months ago that would not only have seemed far-fetched but simply impossible.
Still, it is one game at a time for the rest of the way, and that meant not looking past Vandy Saturday. The Tigers came out and owned the game from the first minute, never really letting the game become competitive. Sure, Vandy cut the lead to single digits once or twice, but let’s be real. Auburn also led by more than twenty on multiple occasions.
The Tigers put another nasty losing streak to rest as they beat the ‘Dores for the first time in more than a decade. That joins beating UT in Knoxville and Ole Miss in the Grove for the first time in as long.
That doesn’t mean Auburn played their best game. Far from it. Auburn let Vandy hit its shots, and while Vandy never led, Auburn never really extended the lead after the break before closing out a 93–81 win. Part of that was due to Vandy’s leading scorer, senior forward Jeff Roberson, going for 30. Yes, 30 points. Roberson was hitting it from everywhere, especially from downtown as he hit five long balls on the way to a double-double.
Offensively, Auburn’s Mustapha Heron and Bryce Brown each had twenty-plus point games. Heron, who hasn’t been the dominant player he was last year, showed up and showed out from everywhere on the court. He put up 23 points with two steals and five rebounds. Still, he has moments when he tries to force shots at the rim, which frequently leads to a turnover and a transition attempt for the other team. Bryce Brown continues to make a push for SEC Player of the Year as he led the Tigers with 25 points. He did a ton of damage from downtown, hitting five-of-seven attempts, and was one for two on four-point-play attempts. Finally, Jared Harper had a double-double as he chipped in 14 points and 14 assists.
Anfernee McLemore had another off game and was largely invisible the entire night. During the streak of bad games, it almost seems as the sophomore is injured. He just hasn’t been himself.
The Tigers were infuego from downtown, hitting 65 percent. But they had an off night from the charity stripe, hitting just 70 percent. Vandy shot extremely well, but it wasn’t enough for the ailing team.
Defensively, Chuma Okeke led the way with two of his team’s four blocks. He also kicked in 12 points and hit two of two from long range.
With Alabama beating Florida, Tennessee rose to second place in the SEC, and Auburn moved to a two-game lead in the conference. However, Auburn’s remaining schedule is as tough as it gets with Alabama and Kentucky remaining.
The Tigers now host Texas A&M in Auburn Arena on Wednesday. Tip is at 8:00 PM with coverage on ESPN2. ESPN’s BPI gives the Tigers a 79 percent chance to win. TAMU averages 75 points per game while giving up 67. The Tigers average 86 and allow 72. If TAMU can slow down Auburn and keep it under 70 points, even if Auburn shoots well, the Aggies will have a good chance to win.
TAMU has a winning record but has lost to the top half of the SEC in five straight games. The Aggies have a big man in Tyler Davis, who does the most damage. He is the leading scorer and rebounder. Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore will be challenged to slow the 6′ 10″ player down. If McLemore is not healthy, Auburn could struggle. TAMU is the type of team that can really scare Auburn by slowing the pace, dishing inside and making offensive rebounds. Even if the Tigers have to hack Davis, it would be a useful exercise as he averages just 64 percent from the charity stripe.
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