Prior to Auburn’s overtime win over Furman, the Tigers had a nine-day layoff. Bruce Pearl’s team was rusty, despite playing at home where they’d been fantastic so far this season. Tonight was no different, and the end result was the same.
Auburn defeated Saint Louis 67-61 at the Mike Slive Invitational in Birmingham to improve to 9-0 on the year, and (as of this writing) one of five remaining undefeated teams in the country. It was the J’Von McCormick show tonight as he broke the Tigers out of an early slump and finished the game as well with huge 20 point, 7 rebound, 6 assist performance.
If you remember, last year Jared Harper had to will the Tigers to a win over UAB in this same event with 31 points, including 15-16 from the foul line. Today, McCormick had a similar output offensively, and kept the game under control from the point guard spot with just a single turnover to his name.
Auburn didn’t start off well, falling behind 8-0 at the first timeout of the game, as they missed the first six shots of the night and had a pair of turnovers during that span. Danjel Purifoy finally got the Tigers on the board on a bucket in transition, and then McCormick hit a pair of three-pointers in just 43 seconds of game time. He added a free throw to tie the game at 9-9, but both offenses were extremely cold for the majority of the first half.
With 6:33 to play in the first half, Isaac Okoro gave Auburn its first lead of the game at 17-15, and the lead would grow before the intermission thanks to threes from Samir Doughty and McCormick to make it a 25-19 edge. Auburn led 28-21 at halftime, thanks to 12 points from McCormick, but they hit just 30% of their shots, went 4-14 from three, and 4-10 from the foul line. Those numbers would remian a trend for the entire game.
In the second half, Auburn threatened to blow the game open multiple times, but the Billikens responded and pulled closed each time. Auburn built a quick 8-point lead thanks to a foul shot and a layup from Austin Wiley early in the half, but a quick 6-0 run cut that advantage to 31-29 in favor of the Tigers.
With 13:19 left, Auburn opened up a double digit margin for the first time thanks to threes from Okoro and McCormick, and then when it looked like Saint Louis was threatening, Jamal Johnson added a three of his own to answer a Javonte Perkins triple. However, Jordan Goodwin wouldn’t let the Billikens go quietly, and he put the team on his back at times during the second half. At the midway point, he alone had closed the gap to three points at 47-44, but moments later Devan Cambridge put the exclamation point on the second half for the Tigers.
After that dunk, back-to-back threes from Anfernee McLemore gave the Tigers a 60-48 lead, and while Auburn led by 10 points with 2:40 to play, they wouldn’t allow Saint Louis to get closer than two possessions. In the end, the Tigers were able to run out the clock and move to 9-0 overall on the season.
It wasn’t pretty, but the job got done. Auburn shot 35% overall, just 38% from three, and an abysmal 13-28 from the foul line. There were just 7 turnovers on the night, and Auburn recorded 8 blocks in the win, but there are definite areas for improvement. Free throw shooting has been an issue all year long, and today it really reared its head. An average night turns this game into an easy victory. However, Auburn had to scrap to win this game, and that’ll pay dividends down the road. On the exterior, Bruce Pearl’s going to be prickly about some of the things that happened today, but overall he’s going to be pretty pleased that we got punched in the mouth early, and came back to win a low-scoring game. We also finally saw the J’Von McCormick floor general that we wanted to see taking over for Jared Harper. Today was his finest game as a Tiger, and we’ll need more of that going forward.
Up next for Auburn, it’s a home game against NC State in a revenge matchup from last year. The Tigers fell in Raleigh with a really frustrating loss as the Wolfpack seemed to hit everything and Auburn couldn’t make a single shot. Of course, not having a shootaround also doesn’t help with that. NC State is 7-2 on the season right now with wins over Wisconsin and Wake Forest, and losses to Georgia Tech and Memphis. The Tigers and Wolfpack tangle at 8 pm CST on Thursday night from Auburn Arena. War Eagle!