Maybe the anger stemming from the NCAA nonsense at the end of last week abated a bit, but whatever the reason, Auburn had to use a big second half tonight at home to pull away from North Alabama in a 70-44 victory.
The Tigers led just 32-27 at halftime with Steven Pearl serving as interim head coach as his father served the second of a two-game suspension as punishment from the Chuck Person affair. Add in the fact that Jaylin Williams sat this game out with a minor toe injury, and the Tigers had some of their juice on the bench and unavailable to help steady the team when necessary.
During the sluggish first half Auburn shot just 39% from the floor, 1-4 from the line, and saw no real explosions from any of the starters. Jabari Smith was just 3-9 from the floor and 1-3 from downtown, even though he did grab 6 rebounds during the first 20 minutes. Thankfully, Auburn’s defense was solid as usual, forcing 9 turnovers before halftime and holding UNA to little rhythm offensively. The Tigers built a quick 7-0 lead over the first four minutes thanks to buckets from Walker Kessler, Devan Cambridge, and Jabari Smith, and kept the touchdown lead at 17-10 after Zep Jasper’s first three in transition just after the under-12 timeout.
After forging ahead 23-12 with a little less than 8 minutes to go until the half, Auburn slacked off, and UNA put together a 10-0 run to come within a point of tying the game. K.D. Johnson and Jabari Smith strung together buckets to give Auburn a bit of breathing room, but UNA hung tough and the two teams traded threes in the final minute to make the halftime margin 32-27 in favor of Auburn.
However, Steven Pearl must have turned into his father during the intermission, as Auburn came out ready to roll in the second half. The Tigers got an immediate score from Cambridge, but that was their only offense in the first three minutes of the half. Then, leading 34-29, the Tigers went on a 25-2 run over the next 9 minutes to build a 59-31 edge and put the game away. During that stretch, Walker Kessler scored three straight times to start the run, and a pair of threes by Wendell Green, Jr. toward the end of the spurt helped Auburn build that 28-point cushion.
A few minutes later, a three by Jabari Smith put Auburn up 70-40 for the largest lead of the night at 30 points with 4:35 to play, and the Tigers cruised from the there to secure an easy win in the end by the final score of 70-44.
Auburn will take to the road to battle the BILLIKENS of Saint Louis this Saturday night with an 8 pm CST tip-off time.