Yesterday, the Tigers (orange and blue ones) got their first SEC Tournament win since 2015, when they went to the semifinals as a 13-seed. It wasn’t as easy as the 34-point win over Missouri during the regular season, but Auburn still got an 81-71 victory to advance to today’s quarterfinal matchup with 4-seed South Carolina.
The most important fact from yesterday is that Auburn played a pretty poor first half, still led, and never trailed in the second half once the stars actually got going. Seriously, if you told me the following had happened, and that I needed to guess the halftime score, I’d tell you we were down by double digits:
- Bryce Brown goes for zero first half points
- Jared Harper goes for zero first half points
- Chuma Okeke gets two fouls in the opening moments and only plays 4 minutes
- Missouri hits 8-16 three-pointers
- Auburn goes 3-17 from deep
Those are the ingredients for a cake of epic failure, but Auburn somehow still held a 32-30 edge at the half. How? Why?
Here’s one reason...
Anfernee McLemore said he was telling the Auburn coaching staff to keep Horace Spencer in the game, as he was having his best performance of the season.— Sam Blum (@SamBlum3) March 14, 2019
Horace Spencer had maybe his best game as a Tiger. His line? 11 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 steals. He was a super high-energy guy and helped get Auburn through the desert of poor shooting in the first half.
Here’s another reason...
Malik Dunbar with the SLAM pic.twitter.com/YMqU2Uv0R0— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 14, 2019
#CLASSICMALIK getting the huge dunk. Malik had himself a good day overall while Harper, Brown, and Doughty were all struggling. He, along with Horace, provided a ton of energy to pull the Tigers through that shooting slump. On the day, he was another double figure guy, adding 11 points of his own to the final tally.
Let’s not forget about J’Von McCormick and Anfernee McLemore, either. Both of those guys had 6 points in the first half, with McCormick going hard to the glass and scoring, and Anfernee hitting a couple of threes to help Auburn loosen up from distance.
Of course, once we switched ends of the floor, and Auburn got to shoot on the looser rim, it helped immensely.
First half: 3-17 from three
- Bryce Brown - 0-3
- Jared Harper - 0-4
- Samir Doughty - 0-2
- Danjel Purifoy - 0-2
Second half: 9-17 from three
- Bryce Brown - 5-7
- Jared Harper - 1-1
- Samir Doughty - 1-2
- Danjel Purifoy - 1-1
Really, it was Bryce Brown’s time to get going. We knew that he’d eventually find the bottom of the net, and he did in spades after getting some time to regroup in the locker room. He went on a tear after hitting his first three, and went back-to-back-to-back in a span of a little over a minute to give Auburn a 49-39 lead. He led Auburn with 17 points on the day after not scoring in the first half.
As for Jared Harper, we saw his steady hand help the Tigers out down the stretch. He didn’t score until the closing minutes, but hit some key foul shots and controlled the pace of the game late so that Missouri couldn’t mount a comeback even though they seemingly couldn’t miss.
Overall, Auburn had another huge second half against this team. During the regular season, Auburn posted 58 points after halftime, and yesterday they had 49 in the second half. That speaks to Bruce Pearl’s adjustments and his belief that the things that Auburn was doing was working, the shots just weren’t falling. Auburn had plenty of good looks early that just didn’t go in, and you knew that eventually things would start to even out. It didn’t help that Missouri went 15-28 from deep to always stay within single digits.
Now, we get South Carolina. Auburn is 1-2 over the last two seasons against the Gamecocks, with both losses coming in Columbia. Here’s to hoping that a change of venue helps the Tigers out today.
Bruce Pearl on Auburn’s quarterfinal matchup against South Carolina: “Frank Martin has my number. Not just my phone number, but my number. What they do defensively bothers us.” #SECTourney— Blake Lovell (@theblakelovell) March 14, 2019
South Carolina’s bodied Auburn recently. They’re rough. We only got that one win at home last year to clinch the SEC because Bryce Brown hit 8-12 threes. Today’s going to be a really tough game to win because they’ll be fresh, but I think Auburn got their eye in and should shoot better in the first half today.
The Gamecocks finished the regular season with two straight wins, but they came against Texas A&M and Georgia. Meanwhile, they’d just come off of a three-game losing streak, where they weren’t all that competitive away from Colonial Life Arena, and it’s not like they were playing world beaters either.
What’s important for Auburn today is to go at Chris Silva early to try and burn him with early foul trouble. It’s no secret that he has a little more trouble getting the close calls on the road, and he’s fouled out of multiple games away from Columbia this year. That’s got to be Auburn’s number one goal this afternoon, and they had some practice going inside and creating conflict in the paint yesterday when the shots weren’t falling. I also wouldn’t hate it if Bryce hit another eight threes today, though. He took over 4th place all-time in the SEC for career three-pointers, and with some good shooting and plenty of opportunity, he can take over 2nd. He’s currently sitting at 350 for his career, and next up on the list are Pat Bradley (366) and Shan Foster (367). If Auburn can win today and get to the second weekend in the NCAA Tournament, I like his chances to pass those guys.
Tipoff coming around 2:30 pm CST again today. Take off early for your Friday and have yourself a victorious afternoon... War Eagle!