A quiet arena, a sloppy and inexperienced opponent, and a return to what makes Auburn such a good basketball team were all things that we saw last night as the Tigers got a key 85-66 road win over Texas A&M.
During Auburn’s run to the SEC Championship last season, we saw this with regularity — what might be a close game at some point in the first half would turn on a dime once the Tigers hit that hot streak. In last night’s case, it was Bryce Brown going nuts in the final six minutes of the first half, scoring 18 of the Tigers’ final 20 points of the period. He finished with 20 total points before halftime, and helped Auburn open up a 48-32 edge at the break.
Bryce was fantastic, and led Auburn in scoring on the night, but like last year, we saw a more even scoring effort across the board. After his huge game against Georgia, Anfernee McLemore came to life again last night, going 3-4 from distance in the first half and providing the incredible rim protection that we know he’s capable of doing. He finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks, but he wasn’t the only guy dominating the boards last night for Auburn.
What we saw last night on the defensive end of the floor (A&M had 15 turnovers and seemed like they couldn’t hang on to the ball) was something else as well. Auburn was able to get out and run unlike last week in Oxford.
How good are Bruce Pearl defenses at forcing turnovers? Per Kenpom, Auburn's defensive turnover percentage is ranked first in the country at 27.8. The difference between Auburn and the next closest (Duke) is 2.9%, which is the difference between 2nd best and 46th best.— worthless stat enthusiast (@joshdub_) January 17, 2019
And while there have been guys going off (Davis for Ole Miss, Flagg/Mitchell last night), the Tigers’ plan for their opponents leading scorers in each SEC game has worked to near perfection. They just have to clamp down on the other guys as well...
In Auburn's first 3 SEC games, they have done an outstanding job on opposing teams leading scorers. Breein Tyree of Ole Miss had just 5 points, Rayshaun Hammonds from Georgia had 9 points, and T.J. Starks of Texas A&M had just 6 points.— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) January 17, 2019
Thankfully, last night was also a return to the normal of the Harper/Brown combo, where they can bomb away from deep on nearly anyone, and combine for 35 points on a bad night.
.@AuburnMBB’s dynamic backcourt of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper has made as many 3-pointers (25) as Auburn’s opponents in the Tigers’ first three SEC games. The pair has shot 41.0 percent from long range in those games. #WarEagle— Scott Scroggins (@ScrogginsNoggin) January 17, 2019
Overall, the Tigers last night looked like a team that was focused and ready to play. We saw it before Maui, when there was a killer instinct about the team, and even though there was a little slacking over the past month, it returned in College Station. A&M tried, but there wasn’t much they could do. It looks like Bruce Pearl has found his rotation, and now he knows what works best for this team. It couldn’t have come at a better time than right now, since we’ve got the biggest home game of the first half of the conference schedule this Saturday. Kentucky’s coming, but they’re about to have a rough time if Auburn keeps getting better with each matchup. War Eagle!