After seven straight victories in SEC play, the momentum hit a brick wall last night in Columbia, Missouri. Auburn went out to take on one of the worst teams in the conference, with a chance to stay in first place in the SEC, and blew a gasket away from home.
Final score: Missouri 85, Auburn 73, and it probably wasn’t even that close.
Auburn fell apart from the floor, and at certain parts in terms of their composure as well. Most notably, the turning point of the game came in the second half when Devan Cambridge was ejected with a Flagrant 2 foul in addition to a technical foul after stepping on Missouri’s Javon Pickett. It wasn’t the best display, and it seemed to have an effect with the officials not to let Auburn “get away with anything” the rest of the game. Just before that, Auburn had been doing a fantastic job of getting to the basket and drawing the fouls on Missouri, reaching the bonus while only committing one foul themselves.
With Cambridge’s mistake, that all turned. To be fair, it wasn’t the reason Auburn lost the game (more on that in a minute), but it erased all momentum and wiped out the Tigers’ resolve.
The real reason Auburn lost? Well, the numbers tell that tale. It’s difficult — nigh impossible — to win when the opposing team shoots 65% from the floor, 63% from downtown, and you don’t make a three. That was the first half last night. Missouri built a 45-32 edge at the break thanks to a blistering performance in the first half. Of course the nation’s 302nd-best three-point team would do that to us (it’s just our way), but it’s becoming an unsettling trend along with some other issues.
Yes, the absence of Isaac Okoro was likely a huge catalyst for Missouri’s big offensive night, but we were out of sync. Bruce seemed to intimate it leading up to the game, and Missouri’s 3-8 SEC record seemed to be the ultimate indicator that they wouldn’t be able to keep up despite our best defender being out. What’s troubling is that we’ve now seen a ridiculous stretch where guys seem to find their shots and have career nights against our defense.
Last night? Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith both set career high totals with 28 points. Pinson in particular was red hot, going 10-12 from the floor and breaking down Auburn’s defense. But it’s not isolated. Jaden Shackleford had 28 for Alabama the other night. Skylar Mays had 30 for LSU last weekend. Mason Jones had 40 for Arkansas, while Devontae Shuler posted 26 for Ole Miss. All of those games were wins because we had someone go off. Or we shut everyone else down. Last night, Missouri ate all game long.
Auburn actually got up to a lead early, which now seems to be a bit of a foreboding omen. 10-5 good guys right off the bat. We were getting offensive rebounds, sticking layups, and defending well. Then the fortunes changed and Missouri quickly built a double digit lead. Of course they did. Pinson banged home a pair of threes late in the first half to give Missouri the 45-32 edge at halftime, and I can guarantee you that Bruce peeled some paint in the locker room.
The second half was just a frustrating display where we were forced to take it after Cambridge’s foul. At the 15:11 mark, Auburn had trimmed the deficit to a 47-42 Missouri lead. That run seemed to take all that we had. Midway through the half, Dru Smith hit one free throw to give Missouri a 57-46 lead, and missed the second. In the rebounding action, Devan Cambridge got pulled to the ground by Javon Pickett, and Auburn seemed to catch a break. Instead of taking the ball with the slightest amount of momentum, officials saw Cambridge step on the shin of Pickett as he walked past. They went to the monitor, assessed a technical foul on Cambridge, and then docked him with the Flagrant 2 hook and hold for good measure. It was a double-tap of epic proportions. Missouri shot four free throws and then Torrance Watson came in off the bench to swish a three-pointer, putting the lead at 62-46. Ballgame.
Auburn closed within ten points later in the second half, but it was fairly academic after that. A 3-8 SEC team ran us off the floor. What does this mean?
First of all, Isaac Okoro’s presence is ultra-important. No, our defense hadn’t been playing super well over the past few games, but I can bet that him being on the floor prevents two different players from having career nights.
Second of all, I have to imagine that’s the floor for this Auburn team. Shoot 1-17 from three and allow historic accuracy from the other side, and you’re going to get beat. It’s interesting that all three losses this season have been by double digits in games that never really were close. They were all also on the road. I sense a theme.
Third, what was a huge strength over the past two seasons is such a tease this year. We were one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, and now that we get to the line more than basically everyone, we can’t hit at a reliable clip. Auburn shot 46 free throws last night, making 30. If we hit 35-46 (not out of the realm of possibility), and maybe go 5-17 from three, then it’s a win. A disjointed one, but a win. Also, factor in Missouri cooling and maybe only shooting 50% from the floor, and we win. Last night was the perfect storm. It happens. We learned that if everyone aside from the stars plays poorly, we’ll be lucky to win. Austin Wiley, J’Von McCormick, and Samir Doughty combined for 59 points. The other five players that saw time combined for 14. Can’t win with a bench performance like that.
What does it mean going forward? Well, I’d expect Anthony Edwards to go off for about 30 on Wednesday night in Athens. Isaac Okoro likely won’t be back for that game, so of course another Bulldog will somehow find his missing shot and go for 25. We have to win that game to keep pace with Kentucky, especially since we’ve got that trip to Rupp coming up.
On a positive note, the past two games have seen the Austin Wiley that we all waited for. His 18 point, 17 rebound outing against Alabama got followed up last night by 22 point, 10 rebound night. He was the only thing working on offense, and his offensive rebounding was one of the bright spots last night.
This is a burn the film and forget it type of game. Move on. Anomaly. Beat Georgia.