As we’ve seen in nearly everyone one of Auburn’s losses, it’s not just that one aspect of the team is subpar — it’s that nearly everything is off-kilter.
Last night the Tigers lost to Florida 72-66 to keep the SEC title out of Auburn’s hands for at least another couple of days. Auburn only led late, but not before trailing by 14 in the second half and battling back against a Gator team that found renewed life at home after a three-game losing streak.
Kevaughn Allen woke up after a major slump, hitting six threes (including one from roughly 65 feet away to end the first half) and scoring 24 points to lead the Gators. Meanwhile, Auburn got just 14 points on 5-18 shooting from Jared Harper and Bryce Brown.
Early on, Auburn put itself in a hole with awful passing and terrible shot selection, committing 16 turnovers on the game and giving Florida chance after chance in transition. The Tigers couldn’t hold onto the ball, and it was a stark contrast from Chris Chiozza’s 12-assist performance that came with just two turnovers.
Mustapha Heron was one of the lone bright spots for Auburn last night, scoring 22 points on 8-11 shooting after missing the Alabama game and most of the week’s practices with a stomach bug. Other than him, Auburn didn’t get much production with Harper and Brown going cold. Chuma Okeke did have a double-double off the bench with 12 points and 10 boards, but it wasn’t quite the emotional impact that we saw from him in Auburn on Wednesday.
What last night confirmed was that when Auburn’s lost a game, it’s taken both a cold night from one or more of the usual scorers, while the other team gets a heroic effort from someone unknown. Think about it -- at Alabama we endured eight threes from John Petty while we couldn’t hit one ourselves. Against Texas A&M we lost Bryce Brown in the first half and Robert Williams alley-ooped on nearly every trip down the floor. At South Carolina, Anfernee McLemore went down and Frank Booker came in with an unlikely three-point barrage. It was the same last night.
Not that Kevaughn Allen’s some scrub, but of course he had to pop out of his funk against Auburn with 24 points. Counter with our lack of production from the guards, and it wasn’t going to be a good night. With the turnovers and hardly any activity from behind the arc, we were doomed.
Still, it was a 66-66 tie in the closing moments before Florida closed it out at the foul line. This Auburn team fought back from yet another double-digit deficit to take a lead. Our four SEC losses have come by 21 total points, so we’re not getting blown out. However, I won’t lie to you and pretend that I’m not tensing up a bit heading into the final week of the regular season.
Auburn’s got two games left, but four overall chances to win the SEC regular season championship if you count Tennessee’s two remaining games. Remember, all that has to happen is that Auburn gets one win, OR Tennessee loses one game. The Tigers get to go into Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night to tangle with an Arkansas team they already beat, but one that’s heating up right now, winning five of their last six. We know that you can go into Fayetteville and give up a boatload of points if you’re not careful, and taking a win there would be fantastic to clinch the title.
After that, it’s a return trip home to play South Carolina. Normally, I’d feel really good about that, but they hassled the hell out of us in Columbia, and we played the ugliest game of the season against the Gamecocks. Of course, I realize I’m tainted from decades of Auburn basketball’s futility, but that’s the danger.
Auburn has rebounded from every loss this season with a double-digit win. After that South Carolina game last weekend would you have thought that we’d run Alabama out of the gym? Bruce Pearl has shown an amazing ability to find a way to motivate his guys after a setback and get them to play like we know they can. It’s time to see it again on Tuesday night when we take on the Razorbacks. Forget last night, we’re moving on. War Eagle!