After getting down by 26 points in the first half, hitting just five threes throughout the game, and losing Anfernee McLemore for the season, it’s amazing that Auburn was even in a position to win yesterday’s game at South Carolina in the second half.
The Tigers came back and got within five late before a controversial clock review wiped out what would’ve been a good three-pointer from Jared Harper. After that stoppage, the Gamecocks regrouped and held serve on the way to a big upset win.
Still, without McLemore, Auburn dominated the glass in the second half and the defense clamped down during the run that made it close. In Bryce Brown’s worst game of the season, he did hit a couple late threes, but the team in general couldn’t find the stroke from beyond the arc and the Tigers were downed by nine on the road.
The main takeaway from yesterday’s game is that Auburn will be without Anfernee McLemore for the rest of the season.
Thank you Auburn Family for all the love and support! Doctors said I dislocated my ankle, fractured my tibia, and will need surgery for some torn ligaments. Not to worry, I’ll be back in 4-6 months. War Eagle everybody— Anfernee McLemore (@akmclemore) February 17, 2018
Obviously we’ll love getting McLemore back for next season, but he’s going to be sorely missed in the meantime. The SEC’s leader in blocked shots, a guy who gave Auburn the spark in the second half against Kentucky with his two alley-oop dunks, and a guy who’s got a legitimate weapon from behind the three-point line isn’t going to be easy to replace. Horace Spencer did a fantastic job in the second half yesterday, but we’ll need to see that on a consistent basis from him, and there’ll need to be someone stepping up behind him now. Everyone shifts up a slot on the bench at the most crucial time of the season.
We loved the fight from the Tigers, similar to the A&M comeback. Down by 18 in that one, we came back to take the lead but ultimately fell down the stretch. Yesterday, we got within five but ultimately fell since the deficit was too great. Even so, the team could’ve folded on the road and didn’t. We’ve come to expect that kind of effort night in and night out, and we got it yesterday in the second half.
Want to know the really good news? Yesterday’s loss essentially didn’t matter in the grand scheme of the SEC race. From a standpoint of looking only at the standings, Auburn still holds the two-game lead on the rest of the field. Here are the top six teams, who are basically the only ones still with a shot (however remote) to win the SEC.
AUBURN - 11-3
TENNESSEE - 9-5
ARKANSAS - 8-6
MISSOURI - 8-6
ALABAMA - 8-6
FLORIDA - 8-6
With four games left on the conference schedule, here are the scenarios for those teams above to catch Auburn. If the Tigers win two games, they’ll clinch the top seed in the tournament.
Tennessee needs to finish a full game ahead of Auburn since the Tigers have the tiebreaker. That means that Auburn needs to win maximum one more game for the Vols to even have a shot.
Arkansas needs to win out, which would include a win over Auburn, since the Tigers already beat the Hogs earlier in the year. If Auburn wins a game, Arkansas would likely be done, barring an obscure tiebreaker going the Hogs’ way. It’s the same situation for Alabama and Florida, since they’ve both got chances to play Auburn in the next week.
Missouri needs to win out and Auburn needs to lose out. That one’s simple.
The main problem for most of these teams is that they all play each other in the last two weeks. Tennessee plays Florida this week, then has road games against the Mississippis before hosting Georgia to close the year.
Arkansas has to play Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, and Missouri. The Hogs need to win out, and if they did it would effectively knock out the Tide and Missouri along the way. Missouri’s got a winnable last four, with Ole Miss, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas to close the schedule. They have to win all of them to have a sliver of a chance.
Alabama and Florida both have really tough finishes — the Tide play at Auburn this week before hosting Arkansas and Florida, and finishing at Texas A&M. Florida has to go to Tennessee, hosts Auburn, then to Alabama before finishing at home with Kentucky.
All of that means that the top six will cannibalize each other and there will be a few teams out of the running without Auburn having to lift a finger. Auburn likely won’t even need to win those two games to win the league, but it would be nice and that would clinch it for sure. It all starts on Wednesday with the Tide in a revenge matchup. If Auburn Arena’s not as rocking as it’s been all season long, I’ll be disappointed. War Eagle!