“Basketball is like... a jungle... and Auburn... is like a Tiger. And Florida is like a monkey, that stabs the Tiger in the back with a stick.” - Michael Scott (I think) on Auburn’s horrid recent history against Florida
Auburn hasn’t had the best luck against the Gators since, well... since Ryan Sterritt was alive at least, but last night the Tigers got their first win in the regular season over Florida since the SEC Championship team of 1999 did the trick more than 20 years ago.
Looking back, it’s really evident exactly how active Auburn was on the defensive end of the floor. They had 8 steals and forced 17 turnovers by the Gators... Auburn was running up and down the floor all night long, and it’s something that we’ve seen worked to perfection during this home stand.
Horace Spencer on Auburn's improved defense lately: "We stop their actions, make it uncomfortable for them to run their actions; that’s really our main focus: force turnovers, run on the break and look pretty while we’re doing it.”— Tom Green (@Tomas_Verde) February 6, 2019
Horace had himself a great night with 6 points, 7 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block, and he ran the break perfectly after said steal to hand it to Bryce Brown for a big score.
CHAMP Horace the Point God— Ryan Sterritt (@RyanSSterritt) February 6, 2019
Something that we got to see continued was Auburn’s defensive insistence that one guy not beat them. In the SEC losses so far, there’s been one player on the opposing team that absolutely went off and destroyed the Tigers. Chris Silva, Tyler Herro, Quinndarry Weatherspoon, Terence Davis... all of those guys had career nights (kill me) against Auburn, but once the Tigers hit the home hardwood, that stopped completely.
Missouri’s leading scorer was Jeremiah Tilmon (15 points), Alabama’s was John Petty (18 points), and last night the Gators got 11 points from Kevarrius Hayes off the bench. KeVaughn Allen (who last year murdered us with 24 points off the bench) only had 10. Auburn neutralized the biggest threats from the last three opponents with some defensive changes, and it’s something that should continue as we hit the road this weekend against LSU.
Also, I’m impressed that Auburn was able to take and build a lead early on in the game last night, as both Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke left in the first couple of minutes with different injuries. Harper hurt his ankle, and Chuma had a rough fall going to the hoop, hurting his hip. Both missed several minutes in the opening frame, but Auburn didn’t fall behind or get too sloppy without them.
And speaking of Chuma... he had one of his best games as a Tiger. He finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals on the night as he led the charge and the effort. His passing was incredible, and he was able to get the defense on skates on his way to the hoop. But it may have been Samir Doughty who kept Auburn in the game while both Chuma and Jared were getting treatment. Doughty hit the first bucket of the night for the Tigers, and then led all scorers in the first half with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and a pair of assists. Auburn showed that the depth is getting better, as J’Von McCormick played very well in Harper’s stead early on. The bench scored 26 points last night, and I’m continuing to be impressed with Danjel Purifoy’s short minutes. He’s just efficient offensively. When he gets the ball in his hands, he scores. He rebounds well, and he had maybe the best pass of the game last night on the lob to Spencer. He was Auburn’s highest-rated player offensively last night in 13 minutes played.
Now, Auburn’s broken that losing streak to the Gators, and they swept the home stretch like we said they needed to do. The SEC record stands at 5-4, and at the halfway point it seems like things are trending up with the team instead of down. This weekend’s game at LSU is going to be very interesting... the Bayou Bengals’ 90-89 loss at home to Arkansas over the weekend broke a 10-game winning streak, and they’ve got Mississippi State on the road tonight. LSU could very well be on a losing streak when Auburn comes to town, but the good Tigers will have to be careful of Tremont Waters and his proficiency in leading the offense. Saturday will be a good opportunity for Jared Harper to show that he’s the superior guard, and for Auburn to show that they’re the superior team. A win would go a huge way to separate Auburn from that clustered pack in the middle of the SEC standings. War Eagle!