Nope. Kareem Canty is hotter.
His three-point dagger and a Cinmeon Bowers alley-oop off a TJ Dunans steal in the final thirty seconds of the game put the New Mexico Lobos down this afternoon as Auburn won 83-78 in Honolulu. It was a better overall defensive performance by the Tigers, which was enough to keep the game within reach despite multiple lead changes.
TJ Dunans played hard on both ends of the floor in the second half to create opportunities in transition and on offense for the Tigers, but once again, it was Kareem Canty Hour. He finished the game with 27 points and 7 assists. Dunans wasn't far behind with 20 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals. Cinmeon Bowers posted another double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) and played a big role in the game as a bench player.
For New Mexico, Elijah Brown led the way with 33 points and 7 rebounds. Cullen Neal (son of head coach Craig Neal) finished with 21 points and 3 rebounds, while Tim Williams scored 10.
New Mexico opened up the scoring with a big three on its first possession, but Auburn weathered the storm playing solid defense under the basket and creating scoring opportunities in transition. Auburn also had some pretty shots from behind the arc with Kareem Canty, TJ Lang, Bryce Brown, and Jordon Granger hitting threes in the first half. The nagging adversary for Auburn, however, was turnovers. The Tigers racked up double-digit turnovers in the first half, but New Mexico wasn't always able to make the most of those opportunities.
There were a couple of big moments in the first half. Horace Spencer had a clean block that ended with New Mexico's Tim Williams hitting the floor hard. Williams was helped off the court and seemed okay. Cinmeon Bowers earned a technical foul after bouncing the ball hard after the whistle, which did not make Bruce Pearl very happy:
(This was before Cim got t'd up. It got much, much worse...and rightly so, if you ask me.)
It was certainly an exciting half that began with a barrage of threes from both teams. The lead changed nine times, and despite New Mexico hitting a three before the buzzer, Auburn went into halftime ahead 41-36.
The second half saw New Mexico regain the lead within three minutes of play, and momentum was all on their side. The Lobos went 7 for 7 in scoring to open up the half and led by six points at the under-15 media time-out. Auburn has had problems all season with the classic "second-half lull," but the Tigers were able to keep their composure at the line and on offense. Kareem Canty served up a slammin' alley-oop for Jordon Granger at the 14:45 mark to get within two, and a drive to the basket tied the game at 55. Kareem Canty hit a three to get Auburn the lead back at the 13:38 mark.
Both teams exchanged threes in the first ten minutes of the second half, and Auburn continued to play better defense (relatively better, to be clear, compared to its showing against Xavier over the weekend). Tyler Harris once again got into foul trouble within the last ten minutes of the game, which resulted in limited action for the forward. Cullen Neal and Elijah Brown continued to be New Mexico's primary offensive weapons, while Kareem Canty, per usual, paced Auburn with three-point shooting, hard drives to the basket, and unselfish play.
It was Canty who made a key layup on a steal and a couple of free throws later to get Auburn hanging on to a slim lead in the closing minutes. New Mexico isolated him inside thirty seconds at their own peril. He knocked down a fadeaway three to put Auburn up by four. TJ Dunans missed his first free throw and made the second at 11 seconds to make it a two-possession game, and New Mexico couldn't respond as they turned the ball over on the ensuing possession.
Christmas Party Talking Points
Hitting up a party tonight? Here's some ice breakers for when you get stuck talking to Jaden or Nadia or Beckett at the cookie table about climate change and microbreweries and HBO. Dang millennials...
1. Kareem Canty is a freakin' snake charmer...
...once he starts swaying at the top of the arc, say goodnight. He did have a couple of air balls this afternoon, and he forced a few three-point shots inside the final ten minutes, but he hit some long-range threes today that kept Auburn in the game, including the absolutely inhuman, game-changing three inside thirty seconds that sealed the deal for the Tigers. He also continues to distribute the ball to his teammates with laser passes inside the paint, and his alley-oop to Jordon Granger in the second half came at a critical moment to stem New Mexico's momentum. Assists from Canty throughout the game allowed Auburn to spread the scoring around.
His patented swaying behind the arc still means bad news if you're defending him, though. Attempting to defend, really.
2. Horace Spencer got his first career start today...
...and he made a noticeable difference for the Tigers. A couple of key blocks by the freshman early in the game gave Auburn an edge under the New Mexico basket. It will be interesting to see how Bruce Pearl uses him throughout the week in Honolulu as it could very well be some crucial conditioning for conference play coming in a couple of weeks. Spencer still needs some polishing, but given the difference he made in today's game, it won't take long, and he will absolutely be a key weapon for the Tigers moving forward.
3. Turnovers. Good grief, the turnovers...
...and we're not talking the baked goods. Turnovers affected both teams today, but Auburn was the team that took advantage of its opponent's mistakes. Auburn scored 25 points thanks to 22 turnovers by the Lobos. Merry Christmas, indeed.
Auburn will take on the winner of BYU/Harvard tomorrow. We'll have a preview and recap for you right here at College and Mag.
Aloha, y'all! War Damn Eagle.