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GAME RECAP: #22 Auburn 77, Morehead State 54

A huge defensive effort on opening night paves for the way for the first victory of the season!

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest turnovers in terms of roster that we’ve seen from Bruce Pearl didn’t seem to matter much as Auburn scored a huge and relatively easy opening night victory over Morehead State tonight at Auburn Arena. The Tigers took a 77-54 victory to improve to 1-0 on the year as they beat last year’s Ohio Valley Conference Tournament champions and an NCAA Tournament participant as well.

Much of the story would focus on the newcomers — Jabari Smith, Walker Kessler, Wendell Green, Jr., and Zep Jasper — all of whom would grace the starting lineup, and they didn’t disappoint. Smith, the highest-ranked recruit in Auburn history, finished with an easy 8 points and 6 rebounds, while Kessler led the way defensively with 6 blocks. Green, however, led all scorers with 19 points and showed off a Jared Harper-like propensity from downtown early on.

It took more than a minute for Auburn to scratch the scorebook for the 2021 season, but it took much longer for Morehead State to earn their first points as the Tiger defense showed off in spades during the first half. A free throw by Zep Jasper got Auburn started, and Devan Cambridge hit the first field goal of the year moments later. After that, threes by newcomers Wendell Green, Jr. and Jabari Smith opened up a 9-0 lead at the first media timeout.

Out of the break, Auburn hit an 11-0 margin on K.D. Johnson’s first bucket of the year, and Morehead finally got on the board more than five minutes in with a make at the foul line from Ta’lon Cooper. At the under-12 timeout, Green hit his second three of the game to open up a 20-4 lead for the Tigers and send the game into the stoppage. By the 6-minute mark, Auburn had built its largest lead of the first half at 29 points with a 35-6 lead before cruising into halftime with a 44-24 intermission lead.

In the first half, Wendell Green led the way with 11 points, while Jabari Smith had a quiet 8 point, 5 rebound debut working. Walker Kessler led the way defensively with Despite the good start, Morehead had closed the gap at the break and continued that surge out of the locker room. What was at multiple points a 29-point advantage got whittled down to 14 points as they neared the midway point of the second half with Johni Broome’s second-chance layup at the 11:36 mark. Bruce Pearl had been giving his backups an extended run with the lead, and he brought Walker Kessler, Jabari Smith, and Zep Jasper back into the game at this point to stem the bleeding.

Shortly after the reentry of the full complement of starters, a Devan Cambridge three and a Jaylin Williams and-one conversion boosted the margin back up to a 65-43 game, and a block by Williams on the defensive end led to a Green transition bucket to complete a 10-0 Tiger run and open up a 67-43 lead at the 4:59 mark. Maybe the final dagger of the game came as we dipped under 4 minutes to play, as Dylan Cardwell swiped a steal and rumbled for a hefty two-handed dunk to give Auburn the 71-45 edge with 3:58 to play.

Auburn cruised from that point on to easily win 77-54 and improve to 1-0 on the season.

FINAL STATS

NUMBERS OF NOTE

  • Blocks! The Tigers blocked 8 overall shots, with Walker Kessler causing problems in the paint for Morehead State. He had 6 blocks by himself, and should be in for a big haul in that department this season.
  • Turnovers — Auburn forced 17 turnovers with 12 steals, and only committed 6 turnovers themselves. It was an incredibly clean night offensively for a team full of newcomers. Speaking of which...
  • Newcomers — The new faces on the floor finished with 34 points and 19 rebounds. Those numbers are honestly fairly low in terms of points, with single digits coming from Smith, Jasper, and Kessler. I wouldn’t count on those three being held so low every night.

OTHER NOTES

  • Freshman Jabari Smith left the game with a slight knee injury in the second half after he got banged into in transition, but he should be alright. He came back in later in the game, so don’t freak out.

UP NEXT

The Tigers don’t have to wait long to take the court again, they’ll welcome ULM to Auburn Arena this Friday night for a 7 pm CST/8 pm EST tipoff. You can catch the game on SEC Network+.