The constant rain of three-pointers from Thursday night's game did not continue into Sunday afternoon, as Auburn struggled a bit from beyond the arc taking quick and often not great looking shots. The Tigers finished 9-24 from three, and that's going to hurt your point totals any day.
The Tigers' rebounding wasn't helping, either, as Mercer was doing a great job of cleaning up their own boards. They out-rebounded the Tigers 41-26. That's... not good. That's the type of thing that is the reason why Boston College was able to defeat Auburn last Monday.
Mercer held the lead for the majority of the first half, but Auburn never let it get remotely close to out-of-hand as they battled to stay in it at the half. Newcomer Austin Wiley entered the game early in the first half and came away with his first points on two free throws. He finished the game with 9 points and 3 rebounds. With the game looking ugly, Auburn entered the half only down by two points.
The second half was much closer as Auburn started to drain shots. The two teams traded leads for most of the half, with Auburn at one point opening it up to a 6 point lead before letting Mercer get back. One thing that hurt the Tigers as time was winding down was the struggle of normally excellent Mustapha Heron at the free throw line. He did manage to split free throws twice at the end that allowed the game to set up for the thrilling finish.
With Auburn leading by three, Mercer was able to drive down for a quick basket with under a minute to go to cut the lead to one. Heron's split free throws put the game at a two-point deficit with 8 seconds to go. Mercer again drove the floor and capitalized on a fairly controversial call from the referees. The Mercer shooter was fouled on the floor, but the officials ruled Dunans' block of the ball off the glass as goaltending, as well. So, Mercer went to the line and took a one-point lead with less than four seconds remaining.
Sloppy ball handling on the in-bounds pass left the Tigers with 1.1 seconds on the clock. An official review added .3 seconds back for 1.4. That worked out perfectly for Auburn.
Bruce Pearl was quoted after the game saying that the in-bounds pass was not supposed to go to TJ Dunans, but the play was blown up by the Mercer D and Dunans was the best option available. He took the pass, stepped back, and launched.
Bruce Pearl's face says what we were all thinking as that ball went up.
BRUCE PEARL'S FACE AS THAT SHOT WENT UP pic.twitter.com/W79ND9Yy6T— College And Magnolia (@CollegeAndMag) December 18, 2016
With the 76-74 victory, the Tigers move to 8-2 overall for the season. They go up north again to take on BigXII Oklahoma this Wednesday. War Eagle!
Things I'm Thinking
Austin Wiley's debut was more than respectable. He didn't have a terrible lot of minutes and he still had 9 points and 3 rebounds. Two of his points came under the basket in the final minutes of the game to give Auburn a lead. He obviously doesn't have everything down with the game plans just yet, but Auburn still found a way to use him and get him used to the game. I also loved how he showed so little emotion. He didn't look wide-eyed and he didn't overreact when he was getting fouled under the basket and the refs weren't calling it. He just kept playing. He's going to be very very good for us. It wasn't a perfect effort - he missed a couple of close shots - but it was as good or better than I hoped.
It was a down game for some of the freshmen, but the rest of the team stepped up. So far this season, the freshmen have rightly gotten a ton of credit for the Tigers' success. The efforts of Ronnie Johnson, LaRon Smith, and, of course, TJ Dunans, have not gone unnoticed, though. Johnson saved the ball on a missed Wiley free throw and had a fantastic heads-up toss to Dunans as he was falling out of bounds that Dunans was able to put back in the basket. Dunans is looking better and better at driving the lane. TJ finished with 13 points overall and was second on the team behind Heron's fantastic 21 point effort.
There are still tons of questions about this team. It's very young and still seems to want to live and die by the quick three-pointers too often. Hopefully, Wiley's addition will help give the Tigers more of an incentive to feed the ball into the paint more. Dunans and Heron are excellent at going to the basket, as is Purifoy. The Tigers don't have to rely on the threes, and hopefully they start to get away from that as they get better.