Auburn kept its dismal record in SEC road openers intact, dropping a hard fought game to Vandy in their horrible, horrible arena. Auburn looked overwhelmed in the first half but continued to fight. The game was very much in doubt with two minutes to play before Vandy pulled away with foul shots to win by 12. The hyperlinks go to video highlights from tonight's action.
Auburn came out and played its worst half of basketball this season, shooting 20% from the floor, getting 13 rebounds to Vandy's 25, and allowing Vandy wide open shots. Auburn's Big 3 struggled. Mason scored six early, then went cold. Bowers and KT combined for five first half points. Auburn got no good looks, either forcing early shots in heavy pressure or waiting until the shot clock wound down and taking a bad shot to beat the clock. Even when Auburn got a wide open look on a breakaway, KC Ross-Miller missed an uncontested layup. Despite that, Auburn went into the locker room down only 14.
Auburn came out in the second half and played much better basketball. Auburn cut the lead to five points twice in the second half and had a chance to win late. KT Harrell found his range hitting two early three point shots. Antoine Mason also found his groove, leading all scorers with 16 points including this great layup with the foul. Malcolm Canada had the best play of the night, driving into the lane, dribbling behind his back and finishing with a layup.
Jordon Granger hit a late three to keep Auburn close. He had two big three pointers which was great for him. He missed the start tonight as Bruce Pearl went to a four guard lineup.
The game functionally ended on one play with about two minutes to play. KT Harrell drove the ball into the lane with Auburn down five. He hits the layup and drew contact. It looked like a block but the officials changed the call to a charge, negating the bucket. Vandy scored the next time down the floor and instead of a one possession game, it was a three possession game.
We blew whatever chance we had with horrific free throw shooting. Auburn went 9 for 18 from the charity stripe. Sir Charles, what do you think?
No Tiger other than Mason reached double digits. Bowers led Auburn with nine rebounds. Malcolm Canada had a nice overall game in a hostile environment (the Vandy students chanted USA! USA! every time Malcolm touched the ball), showing why Coach Pearl started him tonight.
What did we learn?
1) There's no quit in this team. Auburn laid a royal egg in the first half but came back after the half and fought hard. If they keep playing like they did in the second half, they'll "build a foundation we can live a long time on here at Auburn."
2) Auburn struggled inside against Damian Jones. Jones will play at the next level. He killed us inside with blocks and boards and he even hit some long jump shots. He made assists and led a break. The big man can also hit free throws! I hope Trayvon Reed watches this film back to see the type of player he has the potential of becoming for us.
3) Bruce Pearl has Auburn fans excited about basketball again. Several hundred, maybe a thousand, Auburn fans showed up in the unholy Memorial Gym tonight to support the Tigers. Auburn should have a presence in most road venues this year thanks to Coach Pearl. When we get the students back, our home court advantage should be impressive. After hearing Coach Pearl's in-game interview (which I hope ESPN never asks him to do again), it's not hard to figure out why he has Auburn fans excited.
It doesn't get easier from here out. Ole Miss took Kentucky to overtime in Rupp Arena. Georgia took Arkansas to the wire at home. Auburn needs to put this loss behind them as they prepare to host a should win game against Missouri at home this weekend. If you're in town, come out to support our Fighting Tigers.