Weird Win for Tigers Sets Up Final Week of Regular Season

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Weird Win for Tigers Sets Up Final Week of Regular Season

It was a weird game and a weird win for coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers. Saturday afternoon, Auburn welcomed Mississippi State to Auburn Arena for yet another important game. Simply to talk about a must-win game for Auburn at this point is weird enough. Yet, Auburn had to win this game to avoid becoming a bubble team.

Of course, to talk about Auburn as a bubble team seems silly, as they were staring at a second straight 20-win season. The reason for this is that Auburn is one of the few teams that can only play themselves out of a Big Dance bid. Lose to the Bulldogs, lose to Alabama, fail to show up against Tennessee and have a poor showing in the SEC tournament and it is possible Auburn wouldn’t be invited, perhaps even probable that they would be looked over entirely.

Weird, yes. But certainly possible. Auburn dropped four of six games to end last season and while they weren’t quite on the bubble, they were at least being questioned over their legitimacy as a tournament team. That was after the hot start where the Tigers were unbeatable before losing Anfernee McLemore in the last month of the season. This season has been weird in its own right as Auburn has never looked quite like the elite team they were supposed to be with the returning squad that included Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy.

The weirdness continued Saturday. While Auburn did get the much needed win, how they did it was just head-scratching in many ways.

The strangest thing I believe I saw on Saturday was just how bad Auburn could play. With 6:20 left in the game, Auburn led by 19 and they were cruising. With Auburn’s talented guard duo of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, a huge comeback should not be possible if they just take care of the ball. Even if Auburn never took another shot and just milked the shot clock and played some semblance of defense on the other end, 19 points should be able to hold off any team in America.

State never led this game, but in the waning minutes of what had been essentially a blow out, the Bulldogs closed the gap to within four and when the final buzzer sounded, they had lost by just five points in an 80-75 contest. In that six minute stretch, Auburn is recorded to have four turnovers and four fouls. That doesn’t sound like much, on paper. Watching the game showed just how painful it can be and reading it doesn’t convey other things, such as incredibly poor shot selection the Tigers displayed, which isn’t a recorded stat. There are some other things that did show up in the box score such as missed dunks and the oppositions offensive rebounds.

It’s hard to jump on Auburn too much over offensive rebounds, especially when they are hitting 43 percent of their three-point attempts on a 13-30 night. After all, you don’t need offensive rebounding when the shots are falling. However, Auburn let State have their way in the offensive paint as the Bulldogs had 14 offensive rebounds, many of them late in the contest when the game should be put out of hand.

State’s second chance points kept them in the contest and was really they only way they weren’t run out of the gym, aside from Auburn’s guards pushing the tempo and taking bad shots at times. Credit to State’s coaching staff, as early in the game, they put tremendous pressure on the perimeter and Auburn’s guards could not find room to operate.

Late in the game, the Bulldogs backed off and Auburn found themselves rushing bad shots because they were finding opportunities to shoot that hadn’t existed up until that point. Perhaps that was the game plan. Perhaps it was just the Bulldogs wearing down. Regardless, Auburn’s shot selection was incredibly poor the last six minutes.

Truth be told, Jared Harper’s shot selection was bad all game. State’s pressure on the guard was stifling. They would not let Harper get a good look at the basket. Harper had one of his poorest shooting nights on record as he shot just 2-10 in the game with an 0-6 mark from down town. However, he did have nine assists and no turnovers. Bryce Brown led Auburn with 24 points thanks to one of his better shooting nights, something very important for Auburn success as he has slumped down the stretch.

One of the more weird things Saturday night was Auburn’s best shooter wasn’t Brown, Harper, or any of the other regular offensive contributors. It was big man Anfernee McLemore who was 4-6 from down town. He is now 27-81 on the season after only attempting 47 in the previous two years combined.

McLemore isn’t the same player before the late season accident from last year. He isn’t jumping out of the gym any more now is he blocking shots at an SEC-best clip. But, he has found other ways to contribute, as can be seen with his new outside shot.

Auburn travels to Alabama, a team desperate for a win. Bama HAS to win this game to have any chance to make the tournament and that is a bad spot for Auburn to find themselves in before Tennessee comes to town. The Tigers destroyed Alabama at home last month and with the red-hot Vols coming to Auburn Arena, it would be easy to overlook the Tide.

Auburn has a huge opportunity to improve their seeding if they can have a great week. Obviously, beating Tennessee speaks for itself, but Alabama is no slouch at home and highly respected inside Coleman Colosseum. The game tips at 8PM and is on ESPNU.

The post Weird Win for Tigers Sets Up Final Week of Regular Season appeared first on From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary .

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