Ronnie Johnson was dealing. The steady senior guard scored 18 points and had eight assists to lead Auburn in both categories. Auburn built up a massive 20-point lead to end the first half, but as has been the trend for this team, it wasn’t enough. Auburn allowed an unfathomable 63 second half points to lose this game on the road at Ole Miss. It is now 10 straight victories for the Rebels in this series.
How did this happen, again?
On the box score, Auburn did a lot of good things. It wasn’t out-rebounded by the amount it usually finds itself in, and it even shot a high percentage. This game comes down to one aspect of the Tigers game they have been so good at all season: getting to the free throw line.
This morning, when I looked at the box score and saw Auburn only attempted eight free throws in the game, I thought it was a misprint. Austin Wiley has had several games where he takes that many by himself. On the other side of the court, Ole Miss made 21 free throws in the second half alone. Auburn was a victim of both bad officiating and a lack of offensive aggressiveness in the second half.
Auburn was so bad on defense in the second half. Unable to defend without fouling, the Tigers basically allowed Ole Miss to dominate transition with 20 turnovers.
Austin Wiley was steady with nearly a double-double, but it was just not enough. Nothing Auburn did was enough. Whether poor coaching, lack of discipline, or just not being very good at defense is to blame is unknown. What is known is Auburn can’t play that way ever again. You can’t beat teams if you foul them every trip down the court.
As to the fan reaction: to me that was more disappointing. Please don’t read the open thread from last night’s game. It won’t make you think highly of many Auburn fans. Teams blow leads. Especially young teams. Especially young teams who rely on transition buckets and playing at a high pace. It is understandable. It is not an excuse to call specific players “stupid” or to question their IQ, as if somehow Auburn’s team isn’t winning because of a lack of smarts. If you hate this team—if the best and most exciting Auburn team in the last eight years isn’t your style of basketball—please don’t watch them. Go do literally anything else. Life is too short to waste on something you hate.
I, for one, love this team. I love the pace at which they play. I love the talent they show flashes of throughout games. I love that they have the ability to jump up on teams in the first half. I don’t like their inability to keep it up in the second half, but how many Auburn teams could even get up by 20 at Ole Miss? I like that this team has four guys who can flat out take over a game by themselves. I can’t wait to see how Mustapha Heron develops. I can’t wait to see where Austin Wiley ends up in the NBA in a couple of years. I can’t wait to see the next time Jared Harper runs past three defenders like they have on concrete shoes.
You can’t be disappointed if you didn’t have expectations.
Will this team make the NCAA tournament this season? It isn’t likely after last night. Will I still watch them try, and still be proud of their effort? Yup. Would I trade coach Pearl for another coach in our conference? Not likely.
War Eagle. Let’s beat Florida.