The Tigers' offense finally got in gear, but the Auburn defense left a lot to be desired.
Frankie Sullivan banged up his wrist early in the first half and played most of the game with a wrap, but he had another great night for the Tigers (2-5), scoring 28 points on 9 of 17 shooting. Sullivan made four three-pointers and was 6 of 6 at the free throw line, and he added five assists, four rebounds and two steals. Friday night's game was a rare occasion when Sullivan actually received a nice amount of help on the offensive end. Rob Chubb was 8 of 13 for 17 points, and Noel Johnson contributed 10 points, including two big threes to pull Auburn level at late in the game.
Even though this was one of Auburn's best offensive outputs of the season, the Tigers faltered in the second half. Auburn shot 48.5 percent in the first half, but the Tigers made just 38.7 percent of their shots in the final 20 minutes. That was enough to transform a four-point lead at the break into a four-point loss.
But this loss cannot be blamed on the offense; it falls squarely on the Tigers' defensive play -- specifically, the Tigers' lack of perimeter defense. Entering the game, DePaul (4-3) was shooting just 30.1 percent from behind the arc, ranking 262nd in the nation. But against the Tigers, the Blue Demons connected on 9 of 17 attempts -- 52.9 percent. Three-point defense has been a problem all year for Auburn, as it went into the game allowing opponents to shoot at a 37.8 clip, which ranked 301st in the country. Until Auburn learns how to cover the perimeter, the Tigers are going to be burned in each and every game.
The other major defensive issue for Auburn this season, too many fouls, reared its ugly head against DePaul. The Blue Demons only made 55.9 percent of their free throws, but with 34 attempts, that means they connected on 19. Auburn made 66.7 percent of its foul shots, but the Tigers attempted 21. If you do the math, you'll discover the Tigers hit 14 shots from the line ... five fewer than the Blue Demons ... in a four-point loss. If you'd like a representation of what it's like to type that in .gif form, click here.
Cleveland Melvin led DePaul and filled up the stat sheet with 21 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. Brandon Young had 19 points, five assists and three rebounds, and Worrel Clahar chipped in 11 points, three rebounds and three assists.
Auburn has now lost four in a row after a 2-1 start to the season, but the Tigers' last three losses have come by a total of 11 points. So, it's not far-fetched to say Auburn could easily by 5-2 instead of 2-5. Nevertheless, the Tigers are 2-5, and aside from the Murray State game, those losses haven't come against impressive competition. Dayton, Boston College, Rhode Island and DePaul combine for an 8-15 record in games against teams other than Auburn. The Tigers may be competitive, but they have a long way to go if they're going to be competitive when SEC play rolls around.