Auburn got down by 14 points, but manufactured momentum right before the half and turned to Walker Kessler after the intermission, and escaped Oxford with an 80-71 victory. With the win, Auburn now sits at 16-1 overall, 5-0 in the SEC, and in prime position to jump to #1 in the national rankings on Monday after the results around the country in the top five.
Kessler finished the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 4 steals, but the biggest moments of the game came in the final minutes of the first half when K.D. Johnson made two straight steals and cut the lead to 44-38 at hafltime. Ole Miss couldn’t miss in the first half, building a 14-point lead at one juncture, but Auburn battled back. The Tigers finally took the lead midway through the second half and didn’t look back, thanks to strong performances from Johnson with 14 points and a trio of threes, as well as Jabari Smith’s 15 points and dagger three-pointer late when Ole Miss made a final run.
The first four minutes and change were frenetic with both teams enjoying a hot start from the floor. Auburn got the scoring started with a jumper from Jabari Smith, and then Zep Jasper scored the Tigers’ next five points. With K.D. Johnson’s three and a dunk from Walker Kessler, the Tigers started 5-6 from the field, and led 12-10 at the first media timeout. Ole Miss had gotten four baskets from four different players to stay close at the first stoppage.
The Rebels were able to take the lead after the timeout, with a banked in three-pointer from Ty Fagan, and a hook shot from Nysier Brooks to put the Rebels on top 15-14. Fagan hit another three, but a Jaylin Williams jumper tied the game at 18-18 with just over twelve minutes to go, and the Rebels led 20-18 at the under-12 break. Out of the timeout, the Rebels got another three from Matthew Murrell, and Ole Miss opened up a 27-20 lead forcing Bruce Pearl to call a timeout to settle things down.
The timeout didn’t work, and the Tigers got only a dunk from Kessler over the next few minutes while Ole Miss stretched the lead. The Rebels hit four of their next five shots, and built a 35-22 margin at the under-8 timeout. Jabari Smith broke the scoring drought for Auburn with a long jumper but Austin Crowley buried a triple to answer to extend the lead to 38-24. K.D. Johnson came back in and hit his second three, but a Nysier Brooks elley-oop put the Rebels at the 40-point plateau for a big energy play.
Auburn tried to figure out something to attack the middle of the zone, and it turned out to be the lobs to Walker Kessler. The center scored twice, sandwiched around a fadeaway from Allen Flanigan, to pull Auburn within single digits in the final minute. K.D. Johnson forced a steal and drove in to draw the first foul of the game from Ole Miss, and then forced a second steal and drove in as time expired to draw another foul. Johnson hit three of four foul shots to give the Tigers a 7-0 run to finish the half at go into the locker room down just 44-38 after trailing by 14 points.
Out of the half, former Auburn commit Daeshun Ruffin hit a three, and Jabari Smith hit a short jumper, but a K.D. Johnson drive and score cut the lead to 47-42 three minutes in. A Kessler follow layup pulled the Tigers within one possession, and Auburn trailed 49-44 at the first timeout of the second half.
The Tigers got free throws from Wendell Green and Devan Cambridge over the next stretch with the bench bunch on the floor, cutting the lead to 51-47, but Dylan Cardwell got trapped under the basket after picking up his dribble and burned a timeout to send the game into another break. Auburn had shaved a bit of the margin over the first few minutes of the second half, doing a better job at getting into the interior of the defense to cause a few decisions by the officials.
Finally, Wendell Green hit a long three, his first of the night, and just Auburn’s fourth, bringing the Tigers within a 53-50 deficit. Moments later, Jabari Smith got fouled on a jump shot from the key and hit both free throws to bring the margin to a single point with 12:34 to play in the game. After a Kessler block, Green hit a straight on three to give the Tigers the lead back at 55-53. Zep Jasper followed that with a right-wing three, and all of a sudden Auburn led 58-53 with 11:07 to go as we hit the under-12 break.
WENDELL GR33N FOR THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/mYxgSceMRT— Jaylin Williams Fan Account (@ShootyHoopsWill) January 16, 2022
After the Tigers took the lead, the defense started to play with more ferocity. Walker Kessler blocked his fourth shot of the game and then Auburn forced a shot clock violation, but Ole Miss punched back. Matthew Murrell hit a three, and then Jaemyn Brakefield dunked a missed shot to tie the game at 58-58 with 8:39 remaining.
Kessler broke the tie with a dunk out of the timeout, and then skied for a reaching layup on the next possession to give Auburn a 62-58 edge. K.D. Johnson followed with another three from straight away to give the Tigers their largest lead of the night at 65-58, and then Allen Flanigan finished a steal and fastbreak with a layup, causing Kermit Davis to call timeout with Auburn ahead 67-58. It was a 9-0 run over the last 1:49 of game time.
Kessler then added a pair of foul shots and another second-chance shot before blocking a three, and had taken the game over completely at this point on both ends of the floor. At the under-4 timeout, Auburn led 71-64 with 3:15 left in the game.
However, Ole Miss didn’t go away, and Ty Fagan scored and drew a foul out of the stoppage, with his free throw cutting the lead to 71-67, then a Jabari Smith three from the left wing rattled in to answer the three-point play. He then slipped between two defenders for what could have been the clincher to give the Tigers a 78-69 edge with 1:15 left. Ole Miss couldn’t find a basket on their possession that began with :57 trailing 78-71, and they had to resort to fouling, and Auburn got out with an 80-71 victory to improve to 16-1 overall.
Auburn returns home for the first time since last Saturday for a home stretch. They’ll welcome Georgia into Auburn Arena on Wednesday night for an 8 pm CST tip-off before Kentucky comes calling on Saturday.