Was that a grudge match? That felt really personal. Auburn and Clemson played a really physical game before Clemson prevailed 72-61. Auburn had good individual performances from Harrell and Bowers. Mason and Reed showed flashes of brilliance in the second half, giving hope that they may get healthy (in Mason’s case) and experienced (in Reed’s case) in time for conference play. What did we learn?
1. Auburn looked like a new team with the arrival of Trayvon Reed and the return of Antoine Mason. Mason had promising moments but also struggled, lobbing three airballs. Mason’s scoring line wasn’t as high as he probably would have liked but he drew attention away from KT which allowed KT to be more effective. Watching Mason shoot, I think his ankle is still bothering him but its good to have him back. He is Auburn’s best threat off the drive and, when healthy, will be a more physically gifted Chris Denson. Trayvon is a little rough, but talented. He got called for an illegal screen that just looked awful. There were times where I questioned if he was moving up the court as quick as he could when Clemson was running the other way. Reed showed signs of brilliance including a fantastic block with thirteen minutes to play where he swatted a ball out of play. He should catch on to Coach Pearl’s system over the next five games and be full speed by the start of the SEC season.
2. Auburn looked energized after more than a week off. Cinmeon Bowers in particular looked like the Cinmeon Bowers from the first part of the season. He chalked up a double-double after scoring only five combined points in the last two games. He was active down low, and had some solid buckets. He’s still a little too aggressive, forcing passes across the defense and lobbing low-percentage mid-range and long jump shots. Sometimes (as he did with about five to play), his aggression turns into an athletic looking reverse layup in traffic. Just as often, he winds up looking silly. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, never ever boring.
3. Auburn is a flawed team. They’re a guard-heavy, jump-shooting team but only KT is reliably accurate from the floor. Everyone else is prone to long cold streaks. The boys aren’t taking many bad shots, the shots they’re taking just aren’t falling. Our other flaws are more troubling because it reflects on effort, not talent. With the exception of Bowers, we don’t rebound well. Not all of this is due to our lack of height. The players don’t follow their own shots. The players don’t attack the rim or block out when the ball is in the air. I can’t count how often Auburn players have been in position for a board only to have a smaller opponent slip in front of them and take the ball. Auburn gives up loose ball rebounds. When the ball hits the floor after a shot, it's going the other way three out of four times. These mistakes are hustle mistakes that can and should be fixed.
And so Auburn drops another game they had a chance to win late. It’s frustrating to be 3-5 but if it weren’t for injuries, Auburn could easily be 5-4 against a really strong nonconference schedule. It gets better for the Tigers. Auburn starts a five-game home stand against Winthrop. Auburn should be favored in four of those games. If we get into the conference schedule at 7-6 or worse, Auburn will have a lot of work to do in conference if hope to make the NIT or (increasingly unlikely) the NCAA tournament.