Auburn Wins Overtime Thriller in Legacy Arena

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Auburn Wins Overtime Thriller in Legacy Arena

It was almost one of those wins that really didn’t feel like a win. For a second, many 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.”

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 they 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 one diminutive Jared Harper, let’s take a second to talk about the UAB Blazers, this 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 that with Auburn and Alabama being down for 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 to Legacy Arena with 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. They 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 they had to hit to take the Tigers to the brink.

UAB shot just 31 percent from long-range, but don’t take that for 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. This game had more lead changes than the entirety of Auburn’s young season. Yet there were moments along the way that felt like Auburn had done UAB in for good, just to have one of those guards come right down the floor and 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 the UAB, the Blazers were able to have put-backs. It’s hard to point to just that as one of the reasons that UAB stayed in this game, considering Auburn out-rebounded UAB 40-39, it never should have been that close. Auburn has a trio of big men that 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 their 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 over-all 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 any certainty that may be the worst effort he’s had as a Tiger. Anytime your center has the best long range percentage, as Anfernee McLemore could say after this game, you would expect to have a lost.

But the Tigers didn’t.

Auburn did the one thing that every great team does: they hit free-throws. Specifically, Jared Harper hit free-throws. As a team, Auburn hit 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 entirety of 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 those 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, 3-4 from the line and kicked in two blocks. But, he led the way with 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 total blocks led by Austin Wiley who had three.

Up next is a match-up 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 here, 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 enough, 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 6PM on ESPN2.

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