Stop me if you've heard this for pretty much every single game this season... Auburn started out shooting well, but playing a bit sloppy. There were a lot of fouls called. Auburn shot a lot of three pointers. Auburn made a lot of three pointers. The Tigers had a big lead but let the opposing team close the gap a bit right before the half.
Sounds familiar, right? That's exactly what happened again tonight in Conway, South Carolina against the Tigers' former coach Cliff Ellis and his Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The Tigers cleaned the play up a bit in the second half and continued their hot shooting from beyond the arc early on. It didn't last the whole half, though.
The lead fell to 7 points at the half, but Auburn opened the lead back out as the second half progressed. The lead was up to 18 with just under 8 minutes to play, then the Tigers went cold in shooting and led the Chanticleers back in the game. The lead was down to 9 with just over 2 minutes to play, then cut it to 7 with 1:45. Then with a minute to go Coastal Carolina cut it to 5 on a three point shot. Then it was down to 3 after Bowers missed two free throws and the Chanticleers were inexplicably fouled by Tyler Harris, who fouled out.
When Auburn got the ball back, Bowers was somehow still in the game and so, of course, the Chanticleers fouled him with 33.9 seconds to go. He missed the first one, but drained the second one to put the game back to a two score lead. However, Coastal drained a three pointer with defenders right in his face to make it a one point game with 24.4 seconds to play.
Auburn went through a great series of quick passes on their ensuing possession that resulted in 11 seconds running off the clock and the ball in the hands of Auburn's best free throw shooter, Kareem Canty. Canty drained both, making it a three point lead, then held on as Coastal couldn't drain a three of their own to take the game to overtime. Auburn escaped in a game that should not have been in question with where the score stood mid second half.
Auburn once again had six Tigers score in the double digits. Tyler Harris had a double-double. The struggles shooting late show in the final stats, though. Auburn finished with shooting 46% on FGs and 36% from beyond the arc. The Tigers also failed to garner very many blocks in this one. There was only one in the stats column at the end. They did do a decent job on rebounding, though, finishing with 38 and one shy of a great rebounding Coastal team who had 39.
It was a win in the first road game against a team that beat Auburn last season. It was also Auburn's first road test of the season. To come out of there with a win is a big plus for this team as they build towards conference play. A win wasn't absolutely essential - especially this early in the season - but a loss could have killed a lot of the momentum gained over the last two weeks.
Some Observations From Tonight's Game
Tyler Harris is fun to watch, but has some down sides, too. He was under the offensive rim getting rebounds all evening. He was his usual self in finding ways to lay the ball right over the reach of defenders from inside the paint and get the ball to drop. His size and ability are a big part of why Auburn has played as well as they have. The one downside is that he does seem to get into foul trouble fairly early in the second half of most games.
Bryce Brown earned more minutes, tonight. He still needs work, but he saw a lot of action, early. Bruce Pearl obviously liked what he saw in Brown's first appearances. He backed it up with some good defensive play at times and scoring in the double digits. He's a rising star from last year's class who is going to see a lot more minutes as Tahj Shamsid-Deen sits out his injury.
Auburn's defense isn't good enough to survive cold stretches. In every game last season, it seemed like there was a period of 4-5 (or more) minutes where the Tigers went scoreless. It doomed them almost every time. That scoreless stretch came back late in this one, which let the Chanticleers chip away at the lead and almost take the game into over time. While this team has improved over last year's, it's not quite to the point yet where it can overcome these scoreless periods if they happen against a really good team or if the Tigers are behind.
The SEC Network was worth the up-front costs. If you watched/listened to tonight's game, then you know why. Having HD quality broadcasts for almost every single game is such a wonderful luxury.
Auburn has ten days off now before they take on Middle Tennessee State in Nashville on the 12th. That's a long layover to get people like New Williams healthy enough to start getting more minutes. It's a lot of time to figure out what went wrong in the latter minutes, tonight, and try to get it fixed. They're 4-1 so far against a not easy schedule, though, and I'll take that any day.