Last night was weird. It felt like Auburn controlled that game and was by far the better team, but the Tigers could never stretch the lead past double digits. We got big time performances from Okoro, McLemore, Purifoy, and Wiley, and for the most part a combination of Okoro and Doughty shut down one of the best wings in the SEC in Aaron Nesmith.
Nevertheless, Vandy tied the game with a minute to go on a pair of Jordan Wright free throws. Guard Saban Lee played 35 minutes off the bench and put up 27 points, and Nesmith hit a handful of clutch threes late to make the game close. Auburn never trailed in this game, though, and ended up putting it away with surprisingly clutch free throw shooting.
Also, Isaac Okoro did this.
- eFG% - We knew coming in that Vandy was going to be able to shoot the ball well, and they ended up doing just that. Shooting 59% from three is what Auburn did to other teams last year, so we got a little taste of our own medicine on that front. The Auburn defense continued to be a nightmare at the basket, though, forcing a team that was shooting 54% inside the arc down to less than 46% last night. Meanwhile, Auburn shot around its season average when going for two, and had an awful night (again) trying to shoot threes. The end result was Vandy blowing the doors off of Auburn when shooting. Advantage: Vanderbilt
- FTA/FGA - Despite not having a great night shooting, Auburn got to the line almost at will. And hey, what do you know, suddenly Austin Wiley is a 70% free throw shooter! He and Isaac Okoro combined to go 19-24 (79%) on the night, and I’ve got to say that was probably the difference in the game. Vandy actually got to the line at a higher rate than their season average, but Auburn’s ability to draw fouls has been unparalleled this season. Now that they’re starting to figure out how to convert those into points, look out. Advantage: Auburn
- TO Rate - Both teams actually did a pretty good job holding onto the ball in this one, with just 17 turnovers split evenly between the teams. Steals were even harder to come by, with Okoro and Purifoy getting the only two for Auburn on the night. Advantage: Push
- ORB% - More good work by Auburn in this category. Okoro and Wiley each pulled in three offensive boards, and four other players grabbed one a piece. The real success story, though, was Vandy recording just five offensive rebounds on the night. Their hot shooting definitely limited their opportunities, but they also had to contend with the force that is Austin Wiley underneath while Ejike Obinna battled foul trouble. Can somebody make a meme of Tony Stark saying “We’ve got a Hulk” and then it cuts to Austin Wiley? Because that’s been Auburn’s second half game plan a bunch this season.
- Have a night Isaac Okoro. I’ve mentioned him several times already tonight, but 23 points on only nine shots from the field is incredibly efficient. Throw in six rebounds and three assists, and you have a guy who’s getting more and more NBA Draft buzz by the minute.
- Speaking of efficiency, how about Anfernee McLemore’s 72% Floor%? He didn’t touch the ball a ton last night, but when he did he scored almost three quarters of the time. Auburn is blessed beyond belief to have both Wiley and McLemore playing at their peak together right now, and their two styles of play have to cause headaches to defenses who think they’ve figured out what’s coming from this Auburn team.
- The elephant in the room right now is Auburn’s bench. If you consider McLemore to be a starter since he’s splitting minutes 50/50 with Wiley, Auburn’s primary bench rotation of Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge, and Jamal Johnson have had a rough go in conference play. The three of them have combined for a whopping five points, nine rebounds, five turnovers and 11 fouls in the last two games. While they’re clearly not being asked to do a ton with Auburn’s starters playing so well, injuries and off nights happen. Those guys don’t have a ton of potential, but if any of them were asked to step into a starting role this season, that would be a major negative for this team.
- I mentioned Austin Wiley getting to the line earlier in the FTA/FGA section. That 55% foul rate is bonkers though. That means Wiley drew a foul on over half of the possessions he was responsible for, and with his improved free throw shooting, that makes him a nightmare to defend. You can’t just cede the area around the basket to him, but he’s so big and strong that if you try to guard him, you’re likely to give him a chance at a three point play. It takes a strong, experienced big like Abdul Ado to go toe-to-toe with a healthy Austin Wiley, and with McLemore providing him plenty of rest, it makes Wiley that much more of a weapon late in games.
THE ISAAC OKORO EFFECT
Last week was a little bit of good and a little bit of bad for the Isaac Okoro Effect. Reggie Perry hung 21 on the Tigers in the Hump last Saturday, about six points higher than his season average, but the Auburn defense played stout most of the night against Aaron Nesmith on Wednesday. In reality, Okoro and Doughty split Nesmith duties most of the night, with Okoro having to go guard Saben Lee at points after he tore up J’Von McCormick. For the year, the IOE is down to about a 2.3 point difference between leading scorers vs Auburn and vs everyone else.
The Auburn defense’s next task is potential #1 draft pick Anthony Edwards and UGA, which should be a showcase for NBA scouts. If Okoro and Co. can go up against an uber-talented (though streaky) Edwards and hold him to around the 10 point mark, it will be a huge day for the IOE.
Though Auburn and Georgia haven’t traditionally carried the rivalry onto the hardwoods much, Saturday looks like it could be one of the biggest games between the two teams in quite some time. You can bet a ton of scouts will be in the building, and Auburn will have Dickie V and Karl Ravech calling the game on ESPN. If you’re looking for tickets, you can still find some on StubHub. The more Auburn keeps winning, the more likely it’s going to be a sell-out every night. Be a part of it Saturday and see two lottery picks go head-to-head!