Todd Van Emst
After a second straight winless week, Auburn's season is on the edge of disaster -- if hasn't already gone over.
Auburn entered Week 3 of SEC competition sitting at 2-2 and it exited Week 3 sitting at 2-4. That's not exactly how the Tigers planned things after starting 2-0 in conference play.
Auburn traveled to Vanderbilt on Wednesday for what should have been a winnable game against the lowly Commodores. The Tigers, however, struggled to score all night and were absolutely awful defending the perimeter. Vanderbilt hit three-pointer after three-pointer, and it proved too much for the Tigers to overcome. The 'Dores actually hit the same amount of threes as Auburn, but the big difference was the timing of the Vandy shots. Every time Auburn would make a little run, the Tigers would break down and give up a wide open three to the Commodores.
Auburn struggled to find scoring outside of Rob Chubb and Frankie Sullivan, who both had 14 points. Brian Greene Jr. chipped in with 11, but no other Auburn player had more than five. On nights when Frankie is only scoring 14 points in SEC play, Auburn has to have other guys step up. Both CD3 and Jordan Price were in their second game back since returning from injury, but they played sparingly and looked rusty the whole game.
Auburn actually shot better from the field than did Vandy, but the big difference in the game was at the free throw line. The Commodores attempted 30; Auburn attempted 9. You're probably thinking exactly what I'm thinking, so lets not even open that can of worms. I'll just say that the refs didn't call it both ways, and the Commodores traveled so much that they are now maxed out on Frequent Flyer Miles. I couldn't say for certain that Auburn would have won with the refs calling a better game, but it would have definitely been closer than the 12-point margin. All-in-all, Auburn should have beaten Vandy, but the Tigers gave up too many timely three-pointers and committed too many (questionable) fouls at key moments in the game. Auburn had an off night on the road, and that will get you beat in the SEC every time.
The Tigers followed their game against Vandy with a home date with Ole Miss on Saturday night back in the friendly confines of Auburn Arena. The home team played pretty well all night but came up just short, losing 63-61. Auburn did a nice job of controlling the tempo, holding a high-scoring Ole Miss team 18 points below its season average entering the game. Marshall Henderson, the SEC's leading scorer, had 15 points for the Rebels- but he had to take 15 shots to get those points. Auburn did struggle to defend the perimeter yet another time, giving up 11 made three pointers. Auburn stayed in the game thanks to a much better night at the free throw line (the Tigers were 15-of-19; Ole Miss was 4-of-17), but poor rebounding on the defensive end allowed Ole Miss to pull down 11 offensive boards and score 13 second-chance points. The poor rebounding and inability ability to cover the perimeter doomed Auburn, but that wasn't the only issue for the Tigers Saturday. I hate to harp on it again, but the officiating was questionable at best.
Ole Miss got away with travel after travel and flop after flop all night. Some of it was quite baffling. Henderson's taunting should have resulted in at least two technical fouls, and I'm actually not for giving techs unless highly warranted, but Henderson deserved at least two. Auburn actually shot more free throws than the Rebels, but Tigers should have shot even more. Meanwhile, Ole Miss shot 17 free throws but should have shot fewer than 10. The Rebels weren't aggressive, they shot many contested threes, threw up floaters and almost always stopped short of the lane to pass or shoot. That type of play usually doesn't draw many fouls. Some of the calls on Auburn were warranted, but most were complete bail-out calls. Henderson walked to Jordan-Hare Stadium and back, was out of control, initiated contact and somehow still drew the fouls. Auburn has played six SEC games this year; the officiating has been awful in all six.
Denson appeared to be back to his old self Saturday, as he led the Tigers with 18 points. Frankie had 11, and Shaqille Johnson and Josh Wallace both chipped in with nine points. Chubb pulled down 10 rebounds, but he and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum failed to give Auburn much of an offensive presence down low.They combined for one point -- Chubb hit one free throw -- and took a total of five shots. That simply wasn't good enough.
Auburn outplayed Ole Miss most of the game and should have won going away, but when you let a good team hang around too long, you pay the price, and Auburn did just that. The Tigers had a 10-point lead with two minutes left in the first half, but that lead was cut to two by the time the teams went into the locker rooms. Above everything, Auburn's failure to close out the first half was probably the difference in the game. If the Tigers extend, or even hold that lead going into halftime, they win; it's as simple as that. Auburn has struggled all year to hold onto leads, and it bit them again against Ole Miss.
Auburn has now lost four straight games going an away game against Georgia on Wednesday. The contest against the Bulldogs is a must win game for the Tigers if they want any chance of salvaging the season. Georgia is not a good basketball team, and on paper, Auburn should beat the Dawgs. Auburn follows up the trip to Athens with a game at Missouri on Saturday. Mizzou has been inconsistent this year, and if the good Tigers can grab a win against Georgia and build some confidence, anything could happen. Auburn really needs to go 2-0 this week, but 1-1 would at least stop the losing skid and give the team the feeling of a win again, which has been absent for two weeks.