Auburn got some adversity thrown its way tonight, and had to shoot its way out of a hole at home as they came from behind to beat Vanderbilt 94-80 at Auburn Arena. Despite a hot shooting night from the Commodores, Auburn came alive from the floor hitting 58% of its shots and 50% from behind the arc to win going away. Jabari Smith hit the 30-point mark for the first time with a 31-point explosion and 7-10 shooting from downtown to lead the way.
With the win, Auburn improves to 24-2 overall, and 12-1 in the SEC as they now hold a two-game lead over Kentucky and Tennessee for the outright SEC regular season championship.
This game didn’t start out like the Tigers were taking on a Vanderbilt team barely above .500 on the season. Instead, the Commodores built an 11-0 lead over the first two and a half minutes thanks to good shooting and a liberal whistle from Pat Adams’ crew.
Auburn didn’t hit a bucket until a Jabari Smith three, but Scotty Pippen, Jr. answered with a three of his own to put Vandy on top 14-3. From there, Auburn used the energy bench bunch to erase the deficit over the next few minutes. Free throws from Wendell Green preceded back to back buckets by K.D. Johnson, and then a Devan Cambridge three to tie the game at 14-14. Vanderbilt would answer with consecutive three-point plays, and then put together a nice run to retake a sizable lead at 28-20 thanks to threes from Liam Robbins and Trey Thomas. During that stretch, Robbins and Kessler went back and forth in a battle of seven-footers.
The Tigers kept within striking distance, but the latter half of the first period saw Jabari Smith start to explode. He scored 10 straight points for Auburn, including two free throws to pull the Tigers within a 35-34 hole. Wendell Green hit a three to tie the game at 38-all, and then Walker Kessler scored the final four points of the half to give the Tigers their first lead and a 42-38 edge at the intermission.
After halftime, Jabari Smith followed up a 16-point first half with an even more impressive performance. He went nuclear from behind the arc, starting the half with a three pointer to give the Tigers a 45-40 lead. He would hit two more threes over the next two minutes, and then as Vanderbilt hung tough, Smith buried a wide open three after a steal to put the Tigers up 63-56 with 11:19 left to play. Walker Kessler scored and converted a three-point play after a foul from Pippen, and then Jaylin Williams banged home two foul shots to give the Tigers a 68-58 advantage midway through the half.
Walker Kessler picked Pippen’s pocket on the next drive and went all the way for the layup on Vandy’s next possession, and a nifty pass from Jaylin Williams to K.D. Johnson gave the Tigers their largest lead at 74-61. Kessler continued to dominate, scoring two straight buckets and then a Johnson to Cambridge layup pushed the lead to 82-63 as the six-minute mark passed by. As Vandy started to employ a full-court press, Allen Flanigan got open for a lob from Green, and then a Jabari Smith foul shot put the Tigers up 87-68 with 4:30 remaining.
With about two minutes left, Jabari hit a turnaround jumper for his first career 30-point game, and then the walk-ons entered the game as Bruce Pearl emptied the bench. Auburn cruised in the end to what looks on paper like a much easier win than it actually was.
- Jabari Smith was transcendent, and it looked like the light came on not only for him in terms of fostering more of that killer instinct, but for the rest of the team in terms of getting him the ball. Tonight looked an awful lot like what we saw from Chuma Okeke in 2019 when he turned it on in February.
- Auburn trailed 11-0, allowed a guy to score 30 points, and ended up winning by 14. The Tigers are deep and have a million ways to beat you, and they can absorb the blows like few teams in the country can do.
- When Jabari and Walker are both on, there’s really nobody in the country that can beat Auburn. The two combined for 53 points, and Jabari carried the team from behind the arc with a 7-10 performance.
- With the SEC race sitting like it is now, Auburn is in really good shape. You can see the numbers tomorrow when Josh Dub runs them, but the Tigers now have five games left and a two-game lead on Kentucky and Tennessee for the outright SEC title.
Auburn will take to the road for the return trip to Florida this Saturday, with the Tigers and Gators playing in Gainesville at 1 pm CST.