After a bit of a sloppy start, Auburn showed that it may actually be the best team in the SEC by dominating another good mid-major opponent. The Tigers dominated New Mexico at the Roman Legends Classic 84-59, controlling the game on defense and showing off a versatile and dangerous offensive roster. The win improves Auburn’s record to 6-0 on the season with a game against Richmond tomorrow in the championship of the event at the Barclays Center.
The first half was a study in defensive intensity from the Tigers, as they limited the Lobos to just 24 points and a scoreless half from behind the arc. After New Mexico took an early lead, Auburn fought back to take its first edge of the night on a short jumper from Isaac Okoro. An 8-0 UNM run keyed by two buckets from Makuach Maluach gave the Lobos a 14-9 advantage with 13:35 to go in the first half. Auburn fought back and pieced together a fantastic streak, going out on a 16-0 run that was capped by a transition dunk from Allen Flanigan. Leading 25-14, Auburn’s margin never dipped below nine points the rest of the first half, and they ended the period up 35-24.
In the first period of play, the scoring effort turned out to be pretty evenly spread among the team. Both Samir Doughty and Anfernee McLemore scored 8 to lead the team, while Okoro and Danjel Purifoy both added 5, and J’Von McCormick chipped in 4 points with 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Auburn also held New Mexico in check offensively, collecting 12 turnovers while the Tigers grabbed 12 offensive rebounds.
McCormick opened the second half with a three to establish a 14-point lead for the Tigers, then buckets from Purifoy and Austin Wiley’s first score gave the Tigers their biggest edge at 43-24 less than two minutes into the period. Auburn continued to pour it on, ratcheting up the defense to force turnover after turnover. Wiley converted a three-point play, then Doughty buried a three with the shooter’s touch, and then a Jamal Johnson steal led to the breakaway dunk for Okoro to give Auburn a 51-29 lead with 15:14 to play in the game.
New Mexico broke off an 8-0 run to pull within a 56-37 margin near the midpoint of the half, but McLemore ended that spurt and a Samir Doughty transition three turned the momentum right back to the Tigers. Doughty’s fifth three of the night gave the Tigers a 65-42 edge with nine minutes to go, a pair of Wiley jams put the Tigers on top 72-48, and if there was any shred of hope for UNM, Isaac Okoro doused it with a steal and a dunk at the 5:45 mark.
Auburn cruised from there and advance to the championship of the Roman Legends Classic tomorrow night against Richmond. Once again, Samir Doughty led all scorers with 19 points (yes, while wearing the headband), while Austin Wiley overcame a slow start to notch a double double — 14 points and 13 rebounds. Okoro had another double digit night with 12 points, and J’Von McCormick had a stat stuffer game with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.
The Tigers will take the court tomorrow night against Richmond, who stifled Wisconsin earlier 62-52. Auburn and the Spiders will battle at 6:30 pm CST/7:30 pm EST.