Auburn opened the season with a defensive-minded victory over George Mason tonight at Neville Arena, with the Tigers winning 70-52. A slew of new faces joined old favorites as Bruce Pearl mixed and matched different lineups to figure out the right concoction to defense a conference championship. With that strategy tonight, nearly everyone got plenty of run and the Tigers had fairly even scoring, although they were led by Wendell Green and K.D. Johnson with 16 points and 12 points respectively.
Some old issues reared their heads, including free throws and three pointers, but the defense was outstanding and masked many of those problems. Auburn nabbed 14 steals, 10 blocks, and forced 19 total turnovers.
If you wanted a quick start to the season, Auburn provided in the opening minutes of the game. Johni Broome got the scoring started and set the tone on both ends of the floor with two early buckets and and a pair of blocks. The Tigers went up 7-0 on a three-point play by Chris Moore, and a fastbreak layup by Wendell Green pushed the margin to 13-2 at the first stoppage. Freshman Yohan Traore scored two buckets in a matter of minutes to push the lead to 22-7 at the midway point of the half, but both sides went fairly cold over the next few minutes. K.D. Johnson buried his second three of the period to give Auburn a 29-11 lead, their largest of the half, but then the Tigers lost focus. George Mason went on a 13-2 run, led by Josh Oduro and Devonte Gaines, and we went into the half with the Auburn lead shriveled down to 31-24.
Auburn hit just two threes in the first half, but the defense played exceptionally well outside of the closing two minutes. They forced 12 turnovers, and the offensive side of the ball was relatively clean despite the poor shooting with 18 points off of turnovers, just 5 turnovers themselves, and 14 offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, Auburn hit just 32% of shots in the first half.
Out of the intermission, Auburn woke up. Switching ends of the floor seemed to help, and they quickly rebuilt a double-digit lead thanks to a dunk from Broome and a three from Chris Moore. Jumpers from Green and Zep Jasper gave the Tigers a 42-29 lead at the first timeout. George Mason threatened another run, getting within a 44-33 deficit, but two Dylan Cardwell offensive rebounds led to a Traore jam to quiet the energy.
Auburn continued to use defense to set up opportunities to pad their lead, and a death blow seemed to come when Wendell Green buried a straight-on triple to put the Tigers up 49-36. After a K.D. Johnson drive and score, it was 58-43 just after the under-8 timeout. That lead ballooned to 64-46 at the final timeout of the game as the Tigers leaned on the Patriots with their defense, closing out the victory mostly at the foul line down the stretch.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Johni Broome showed us all something in his orange and blue debut. The transfer from Morehead State hit double-digit points with 12 on 5-11 shooting. He grabbed 6 rebounds and affected nearly every shot he guarded on the interior on defense. He did a great job on Josh Oduro, the reigning leading scorer in the A10. He also had 4 blocks, 2 steals, and committed just 2 fouls and committed a single turnover.
Auburn remains at home and will meet USF this Friday night for another 7 pm CST/8 pm EST tipoff at Neville Arena. That game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.