February 7th, 2017 - Auburn Arena
There was a moment, here, mid-way through the conference slate, where if you squinted just the right way, you could see Auburn as an NCAA Tournament team. Auburn was playing a dizzying, up-tempo brand of basketball, and was coming off a season sweep of the Crimson Tide.
Sure, there was a recent 10-point loss to an average Tennessee team, and a blowout beating at the hands of a ranked South Carolina squad, but Auburn had won five of its last eight games to get to 15-8 on the season. It was a longshot, sure, but with the incredible young talent at Bruce Pearl’s disposal, maybe they could do it. Heck, even an NIT berth would’ve been an accomplishment.
Enter the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Like the LSU game we recapped last week for Bruce’s 500th win, Auburn came out hot, and built multiple double digit leads. The 3-ball was working wonders for Auburn in this one (not always a given at this point), with Bryce Brown and TJ Lang combining for seven threes on 10 attempts.
We also got a nice glimpse of early Anfernee Block-Lemore in this game, with three grown man stuffs at the rim.
This was another game where a young Jared Harper had to cede to a calming presence in Ronnie Johnson to run the point. While he had just the one turnover, Harper only hit one shot from the field (1-6) and picked up four fouls in 22 minutes. Johnson, while only scoring six points, tallied eight assists and four rebounds in 17 minutes. We’ve talked about it before, but throughout this year I realy feel like Jared learned a lot about how to be a more than a scorer from Ronnie Johnson.
Auburn’s high tempo style of play, though, combined with the youth on the roster, meant leads could be built and evaporated in a matter of minutes. A 20 point halftime lead melted away with several stretches of poor Auburn defense in the second half, and it was suddenly a seven point game with around two minutes to go.
Let’s turn to our old friend Walt to see what happened from there:
The end of this basketball game - the final 2-2:30 minutes - lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 minutes of real time. It was crazy with the fouls (three called each way at one point before a second even came off the clock), checking who tipped a ball out of bounds, checking the clock, etc, the refs couldn’t keep away from their whistles.
Mississippi State obviously watched the tape of the final minutes of the Alabama game as they went to a press defense in the final minutes and Auburn had no answer to break it to get the ball out. On top of that, the Tigers kept fouling when they least needed to, giving Mississippi State plenty of chances at the line. Although, plenty of those fouls looked questionable at best as it seemed the refs were doing everything they could to see that this game lasted as long in regulation as the South Carolina / Alabama game did in four overtimes.
The officiating in the SEC is... well, it’s something. There is absolutely no reason there should have been that many whistles in the final minutes.
After close to 30 minutes (no, really), the final 2:30 finally ran off the clock. Auburn was able to hit some free throws and stretch the lead back out and come away with the win - even after MSU was able to shoot three free throws when Bryce Brown fouled on a three-point shot for some reason. There was a combined 35 (THIRTY. FIVE.) free throw attempts in the final 2:30. Auburn pulled it out 98-92 in the end, though.
THIRTY FIVE FREE THROWS? IN THE LAST 150 SECONDS?
Man, now I’m mad at SEC basketball refs on a Tuesday lunch break.
Ultimately, Auburn was able to keep the Bulldogs at arms length with a strong offensive night. It sure took a while to get there, though.