Auburn basketball rebounded from the losing skid it's been on, found a way to pull away rather than fall behind in the second half, and won a much-needed victory on the road tonight in Baton Rouge against the Bayou Bengals, 98-75.
The first half of this game played out just like many suspected that it would: as a shootout. Both teams can score points. Both teams have had issues with defense at times. Auburn just seems to typically perform well on defense at some point in every game. Tonight, it was in the second half instead of the first.
Auburn built a 10 point lead midway through the first half, but LSU fought back and tied the game up a few times before the teams went into halftime with Auburn leading 45-42.
The second half seemed like it would be more of the same early on. Then, around midway through the half, Auburn started building a lead. It really came when Bryce Brown - who was really stroking the ball, tonight - drained two deep three-pointers on back-to-back possessions. That built a multi-possession lead and really seemed to drain the energy from LSU. While LSU didn't let the game get too out of hand too quickly after that, Auburn kept the intensity going and kept draining threes along with some smooth moves by TJ Dunans, Ronnie Johnson, and Mustapha Heron driving the basket to make sure that LSU was never able to fight back into the game.
It was quite a game for Auburn spreading the points around. The Tigers had five players in double-digits, led by Ronnie Johnson running the point. Bryce Brown and Danjel Purifoy both had 15 points, with all of Brown's coming on five three-pointers. The old Danjel Purifoy appeared at times in this one, getting boards under the basket and finishing it off with points, as well. Mustapha Heron added 10, TJ Dunans 11, and Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore had 9 to finish just outside the 10 point number.
If there's one thing you can really point to for this Auburn team, it's that when TJ Dunans is on his game, Auburn plays well. Dunans definitely had it going tonight, punctuated with his monster one-hand jam after an LSU turnover that really helped take whatever win remained out of LSU's sails late in the 2nd half.
For Auburn, the win tonight secured the Tigers' first winning season since 2008-09. That's a pretty big deal for a program that has been suffering for the better part of a decade. The win also improves the post-season chances of making it to the NIT. A 20 win season still isn't out of the realm of possibility with games against Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, and then the SEC Tournament looming ahead.
It's been a frustrating year, but tonight we once again saw glimpses of what this team can be. If they can build off this, then they can really close the year on a high note and prepare for making a real run in 2017-18.
The Tigers return home this Saturday to face the Razorbacks. That game will begin at 7:30 pm Central time. War Eagle!