Auburn survived a scare from Murray State yesterday, winning 93-88 as the offense turned it on and scored 55 points in the second half. The Tigers improved to 10-2 as they roll into Christmas.
The Tigers got going from three-point range, hitting 13-33 long shots (39.4%), which is a huge win against the team that boasted the top three-point defense in the country. After the last two games and the poor perimeter shooting, yesterday was a sight for sore eyes as Auburn also shot better than 53% from the floor overall.
- Auburn got a much more even scoring effort from everyone in the starting lineup. Everyone hit double figures, led by Samir Doughty’s 20 points. This is huge after Auburn had to depend almost solely on Bryce Brown in the win over Dayton, and Jared Harper in the win over UAB. Doughty had his best game as a Tiger, scoring early and late and providing some key buckets when the Tigers trailed.
- Speaking of the starting lineup, we got a new wrinkle from Bruce Pearl. Austin Wiley made his first start of the season, and his first start in almost two calendar years. His impact was felt immediately, as he had 10 points and 5 rebounds in the first half, finishing with a double-double (17 points/10 rebounds) on the game. He took Anfernee McLemore’s starting spot, and it seems like the move will really help out as Wiley’s been playing better and better.
- Auburn had 42 points in the paint, 23 points off of turnovers, 20 fastbreak points, and 15 second chance points. A lot of that came from Wiley’s presence on the inside, but Chuma Okeke also had a great game, and Horace Spencer came in and had a big impact as well. Spencer’s the glue that brings the bench bunch together, and he makes things happen on almost every possession on both ends of the floor.
- Auburn’s inability to close out the game was jarring. With :56 remaining, the Tigers led by 12 points, but 32 seconds later it was just a three-point lead at 91-88. Thankfully, Jared Harper hit a couple of free throws to make it a 93-88 margin, but that was too close for comfort.
- Speaking of free throws, Auburn needs to find the consistency they had last year. Desean Murray was great at free throws, and we’re missing his ability at the foul line. Auburn went just 3-10 in the first half, but they made up for it by going 9-10 in the second half, and they needed each and every one of those shots.
- At times, the defense was flat-out bad. I know that Ja Morant can make a lot of guys look silly, but Auburn got roasted on the alley-oop time and again, and then couldn’t stop the three-point shooting in the second half. This has become a bit of a thing, as Dayton shot really well, then UAB shot really well (despite being an overall horrible shooting team). NC State was super efficient from the floor, and then Murray State seemed like they couldn’t miss either. At a certain point opponents shooting well isn’t just bad luck or someone getting hot, but a trend. I’m not sure what you can do to stop that, because a lot of these shots aren’t wide open either. It’s tough.
Overall, Auburn got a win over a tournament team from last year, and a team that can absolutely be a conference champion at the end of the season. However, there are some things that are troubling. Maybe Bruce Pearl’s just playing with the lineups at this point, but it doesn’t seem like Auburn can afford to play without one of Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke, or Austin Wiley on the floor. When that happened yesterday, the Racers made a big run. At a point, Bruce just needs to find the best starting five and the 2-3 backups that give you the best chance to win off the bench. Auburn’s got North Florida next Saturday, so it’ll be a chance to really tune up before SEC play starts.
10-2 is pretty solid, though! Auburn fans having the ability to be complaining about only being at this point before Christmas is unfamiliar, so I’ll take it. War Eagle!