Hey, remember when Auburn was 15-0, or 22-2, and winning games left and right?
Yeah, turns out that’s not going to happen without Isaac Okoro on the floor.
We’re going to continue to struggle in getting to the rim and distributing the ball, just like we did tonight in a tepid 65-55 defeat at Stegeman Coliseum to Georgia. You know, the team that was 2-10 in SEC play before tonight. Now, the Tigers have lost two straight road games to some of the worst teams in the conference, and the hopes for winning a third consecutive SEC Championship are teetering upon extinction.
Tonight was a mirror image of Saturday night, except we didn’t face a team that hit 60%+ of its shots like Missouri did. Auburn’s poor shooting, however, continued just like it did over the weekend. The absence of Isaac Okoro certainly isn’t the culprit there, as Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, and Samir Doughty combined to go 1-13 from beyond the arc in Athens tonight. Many of those were open looks. Many of them were absolute bricks. J’Von McCormick was the primary weapon for Auburn tonight with 22 points, but he’s not supposed to be our deep shooter. He led the team going 3-8 from downtown, but that’s not ideal.
Things started well enough. Auburn and Georgia traded buckets for the first several minutes, playing the first five in a 9-9 tie. Then Rayshaun Hammonds scored five straight points and Auburn could never catch up. A 9-1 Georgia run gave the Bulldogs a 21-12 lead, but Auburn found some fire from McCormick, who strung together a 9-0 run of his own to take a 23-22 edge with 5:14 left in the half. Georgia wasn’t done, and posted another 9-1 spurt, taking a 31-25 lead into halftime.
The second half wasn’t really much better as Auburn scored just four points in the first six minutes of the period. Thankfully Georgia’s offense couldn’t find its footing either, and the deficit was manageable, but Auburn wasn’t up to the task offensively. Two straght McCormick threes pulled the Tigers within a possession at 41-38 with 10:55 remaining, but he got no help and Auburn fell behind by nine points quickly. Auburn’s last gasp effort ended after Doughty’s only make from distance, which cut the margin to 54-50. Auburn scored just five points over the final 3:39, and Georgia’s lead ballooned at the foul line as they scored a much-needed SEC win.
So, what does this mean for Auburn?
Well, the SEC record now sits at 9-4. All four losses have come in conference, on the road, by double digits. Kentucky’s a full two games ahead of us in the standings at 11-2, and so we need to not only win in Rupp Arena, but hope that the Wildcats find another loss somewhere along the way. Meanwhile, Auburn can’t lose again. There are just five games left in the SEC, and that means that Kentucky has to lose to us and one of Florida (home or road), Tennessee at home, or A&M on the road. It’s not the toughest stretch in the SEC. Meanwhile, Auburn has to beat Tennessee twice and take care of business against A&M and Ole Miss at home. Thankfully we’ve got three of five left at Auburn Arena.
It’s pretty evident that the key for this team has been Isaac Okoro. Is it possible for a player’s NBA Draft stock to rise without even playing? Because that’s what’s going on right now. He’s slated as a top three pick at the moment, but his impact on the team in masking the cracks and blemishes is uncanny. Auburn somehow hung on against Alabama without him down the stretch, but these last two games have been rough.
It’s back home on Saturday for Tennessee at 11 AM, and we’re going to need the full support of Auburn Arena. Have to win. Have to. There’s still a ton about this season left to be written, whether that’s how the year ends — like 2018, or like 2019 — and what kind of season we remember next year. Are there stories to be written? Of course, but will they be the kind that talk of a team flatlining down the stretch with an early March exit or will they be similar to last year with a team finding itself at the most important time of the year? We’ll see.