It hasn't been easy for Bruce Pearl and the Tigers this season. Auburn can achieve a silver lining tonight by beating LSU to complete the season sweep of the Bayou Bengals...who play basketball. The basketball Bayou Bengals. Beat the basketball Bayou Bengals. Badly. We're begging you.
But enough alliteration...
The Auburn Tigers (12-15, 4-10 SEC) have missed the chance to go .500 in SEC play this season (excluding whatever might occur in the SEC tournament), but they do have a chance to break that mark by winning their remaining four SEC games against LSU, Texas A&M, Missouri, and Georgia—two away games bookended by two games at home. The first task is to take on LSU (19-8, 8-6 SEC) at Auburn Arena tonight. Johnny Jones' team is coming off a solid win against Florida in Baton Rouge on Saturday, while Bruce Pearl and Auburn are licking their wounds after a beat-down at the hands of Kentucky in Lexington by the score of 110-75.
Auburn fans should take heart, though. The Tigers scored the second most points against the undefeated top-ranked Wildcats this season behind Antoine Mason's career-high 29 points—the most for one player against John Calipari's team this season. After the game, Mason said he and his teammates were aiming to make it a "respectable" effort despite the huge early lead by Kentucky.
Tonight, Mason and the rest of the Tigers will have a chance to do more than just "respectable." Auburn fought hard to beat LSU in Baton Rouge earlier this month to earn its first SEC road win of the season, which was followed by its second at Georgia on Valentine's Day. Sweeping a good LSU team for the year would certainly be something for Pearl and his players to hang their collective hat on in an otherwise frustrating season. Defeating LSU would also be a perfect remedy for rebounding after a disappointing loss in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
For all of the outside circumstances he's had to deal with in 2015, Antoine Mason has already been the bright spot Auburn's needed during a tough stretch of SEC play. While he didn't play one of his best games, he was instrumental in his "return" against Georgia as a bench player to help Auburn defeat the (at the time) 4th-ranked Bulldogs. His scoring ability has given the rest of his teammates a boost on the court, and his ability to play selflessly gave Jordon Granger and Cinmeon Bowers huge alley-oop finishes against Alabama at home last week. In what can only be described as a frustrating first year for Bruce Pearl at the helm, his star guard has been a much-needed shot in the arm.
KT Harrell continues to post solid stats every night for Auburn. He reached the 1000-point (for Auburn) mark against Alabama last week, and his 3-point percentage and success at the foul line have, like Mason's efforts, anchored the Tigers during the storm of tough, physical SEC play. The Tigers still need consistency out of player like Malcolm Canada, K.C. Ross-Miller, and especially Cinmeon Bowers. While criticized for his "showboating" against Alabama last week (which, in this writer's humble opinion, is a load of hot garbage, Kevin), Cinmeon has posted double-digit double-doubles this season (more alliteration, which still makes him a threat in the paint—if only for his size, strength, and Barkley-esque attitude and style of play (though, despite Barkley's recent 52nd birthday celebration, we'd welcome a loophole to get him back in an orange and blue uniform).
On the other side of the ball, LSU found some success behind its sophomore forward Jarell Martin on Saturday, who despite a lackluster performance in the previous games against Texas A&M and Tennessee, scored a career-high 28 points against the Florida Gators on the way to another SEC victory. Size has also favored the Bayou Bengals this year, which will be difficult, but not impossible for Auburn to keep in check. Auburn will certainly need to improve on its offensive rebounding, as LSU is one of the top defensive rebounding teams in the country ($1 Jesse Palmer). It will be up to Auburn to keep its cool this time around as the last match-up provided plenty of fouls and a couple of technicals (also a load of hot garbage). As each week progresses, the target on Cinmeon's back only seems to become larger, but that's none of my business...
It won't be easy, but Auburn can make a serious statement to close out a challenging season by winning its remaining four games before the SEC tournament. It starts tonight against LSU. If you're going to the game, show up early, yell loudly, and don't forget that even Katy Perry made her distaste for LSU known during the 2014 football season (and for someone who knows a lot about beef, you should trust her judgment about the corndogs coming into our house tonight).
See you in the Arena, and War Damn Eagle.
When: 7:00 pm EST / 6:00 pm CDT
Stream: WatchESPN / ESPN3
Listen: Auburn IMG Network