You can now enjoy your weekend on non-sporting events, at least until Sunday’s bracket reveal. Auburn will no longer be participating, and will not require anyone to subject their stress levels to any more basketball until the NCAA Tournament begins.
The Tigers fell to Texas A&M in their opening game at the SEC Tournament by a score of 67-62, with the Aggies advancing to the semifinals tomorrow against the winner of the Arkansas/LSU matchup. Auburn made a valiant comeback, but started to put things together much too late to make a complete resurgence at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Two of the Tigers’ worst offensive performances came in this very building, with Auburn having to erase a 15-point deficit to USF earlier this season. Today, the Aggies built a 20-point lead at 53-33 before Auburn started to trim the lead and make things tense down the stretch.
Jabari Smith had an off day by all accounts, yet still finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Walker Kessler avoided foul trouble and added 16 points and 9 boards, while Wendell Green came alive in the second half to post 15 points on 5-9 shooting from deep. Meanwhile, A&M got huge performances from Henry Coleman, who posted a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and a near-perfect day from Tyrece Radford, who went 5-6 from three and added 19 points. Quenton Jackson came on late with 13 second-half points, including a huge dunk and block on back-to-back possessions to help A&M prevent the Auburn comeback. Unfortunately for Auburn, they got the worst offensive performance of the season from K.D. Johnson, who went 0-14 with 3 turnovers.
A&M led 8-3 early on, with Jackson doing some damage, and no Tigers could find the bottom of the net except Jabari Smith, who scored the first 7 points of the game for Auburn. At the 13:06 mark, Walker Kessler got an alley-oop from Wendell Green to pull the Tigers within an 11-9 deficit, but the Aggies went on a 9-3 run over the next four minutes. Leading 20-12, both sides went cold for a few minutes until Jabari Smith free throws made it 22-15 A&M, and then Radford went off. Consecutive threes pushed the lead to 28-15, and then back-to-back buckets by Coleman gave A&M a 34-19 edge with 2:24 left in the first half. With :11 remaining, Wade Taylor hit a corner three, and Dylan Cardwell missed a last second alley-oop dunk, and the Aggies led 37-21 at the break.
After halftime, Auburn certainly played better, but couldn’t begin to cut into the lead, and A&M pushed the margin to 20 points with a 53-33 lead at the 11:14 mark of the game. An Allen Flanigan jumper cut that to 15 points at the 8:17 mark, and then Wendell Green came alive. He rattled off four threes over the next few minutes, with the last one pulling Auburn within a 60-55 deficit with 2:14 left in the game. Jackson answered with a give and go dunk on an inbound play on the next possession, and then chased down Zep Jasper in transition to block an easy layup. Auburn got within a 62-58 deficit on a Jabari three, but A&M closed things out at the foul line and Auburn couldn’t close the gap, falling 67-62 in the end.
- Bruce Pearl tried to get Auburn a look at this arena back at the beginning of the season, and we were awful in that game against USF. Clearly, the Tigers don’t like playing there at all.
- Aside from Jabari and Wendell, the rest of the team shot 6% from three.
- K.D. Johnson’s 0-14 performance today is the most misses in SEC history without a make in a single game. He’s such an energy guy that you love having him on the floor, but it’s really tough to justify having him in as long as Bruce did today. When it’s just not working, you’ve got to give someone like Lior Berman at least a couple minutes.
- Auburn was dared to shoot open threes all game and didn’t start hitting them until it was too late. That’s a gamble by A&M but it worked out, and they just stuffed the interior to prevent Auburn’s size advantage from actually taking hold and running the game. They learned from the first meeting where Walker Kessler destroyed them.
- Despite the apocalyptic shooing performance, Auburn lost by 5. The five defeats this year are by 6 (overtime), 4, 1, 5, and 5 points.
- Thankfully, we’ll get a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament next week, and there’s not a 15-seed with anyone that can guard either Jabari Smith or Walker Kessler. The Tigers will have a game that should let them find their stroke at the arena in Greenville (or wherever) before having to play a feistier 7/10 seed.
Auburn awaits its NCAA Tournament destination. The Tigers will likely end up a 2-seed, hopefully playing in Greenville. It remains to be seen which region they’ll end up in, and you can find out on Sunday when the bracket is revealed.