We can’t seem to grab the carrot on the string that’s been dangling in front of us for the past couple of weeks. Road losses to South Carolina, Florida, and Arkansas have slowed the progress in terms of grasping an SEC regular season championship. Last night was just as frustrating as those other two games, and very similar.
We fell behind, came back and made it a game, but ran out of steam and couldn’t hang on in the end. Against Florida we took an actual lead late, but last night we trailed pretty much from the opening whistle. Once again, the home team shot the lights out and our defense suffered. I know some of that has to do with Anfernee McLemore’s absence, but we can’t use that as an excuse since he’s not coming back this year.
Arkansas got hot early, stayed hot late, and when it seemed like nothing was falling for us, they were hitting the contested threes and getting the bounces around the rims. Auburn had several wide open threes that just didn’t fall, shooting 7-28 overall from behind the arc. Once again, Bryce Brown struggled to get going from distance, posting an 0-6 night from three against the Hogs. Couple that with Jared Harper’s recent road struggles (1-7 from three), and it means that Auburn’s making an ask of Mustapha Heron that he take on the scoring of three players.
Heron nearly did it last night, finishing with 28 points to lead all scorers, and he showed once again that he’s clearly capable of taking over a game. He just needs a little help. With Horace Spencer getting three fouls in the first half, Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford was free to make dunk after dunk around the rim and dominate the paint, and when senior night gives Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford a boost, it’s curtains. Those three finished with 57 points combined, and Gafford’s eight blocks proved to be a huge deterrent around the bucket.
Okay, we lost. It’s time to shake it off.
For every scenario listed over the past couple of weeks in regard to winning the regular season title and taking the 1-seed at the tournament next week, it gets pretty simple on Saturday. South Carolina comes to town, having beaten us once, but now they have to deal with our home crowd and our home court advantage. They shot the lights out in Columbia, and if they duplicate that effort, more power to them. I just don’t see us shooting so poorly at home with so much at stake.
If we win, we’re the champs. If Tennessee loses, we’re the champs. If we lose and Tennessee wins, they’re the champs. It’s a pretty simple concept to grasp, but we need a championship effort on Saturday from everyone — the team, the coaches, the staff, and maybe most importantly, the fans. The Jungle needs to be as insane as it’s been all year, because how could it end in any better than us winning the league at home in the final game of the season?
On to the finale. War Eagle.