After an opening day of the NCAA Tournament yesterday that saw four double-digit seeds advance, including a 15-seed winning over a 2-seed, it was normal to be a little bit nervous when Auburn tipped against Jacksonville State today. No stress necessary. This one was close for a little while when the Gamecocks were hitting shots early, but Auburn ratcheted up the defense and ran away with its first game in the NCAA Tournament, winning 80-61.
Walker Kessler nearly recorded his third triple-double of the season with a 13 point, 10 rebound, 9 block performance, but Jabari Smith was the star with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and the dunk of the tournament thus far. Auburn ran out an 11-0 spurt to end the first half, led by as many as 24 in the second half, and was never threatened as they move on to face the winner between USC and Miami in the 7/10 game.
Auburn began the game hot by getting a K.D. Johnson layup right out of the blocks, which was followed by a Walker Kessler block and a Jabari Smith three. The Tigers led 5-0 before Jacksonville State came back with an 8-0 run capped by a Jalen Finch three. Dylan Cardwell put the Tigers on top with a dunk, and then Walker Kessler got into the offensive action with a dunk in the halfcourt, but Jalen Gibbs hit his second three to tie the game at 11-11. Right after that, Darian Adams buried a contested straight-on three to put JSU up 14-11 at the under-12 timeout. The Gamecocks were 4-6 from deep at this point.
They continued to stay hot, hitting another three to go up 17-11, but Wendell Green answered with a left wing triple, and a pair of Jabari Smith foul shots pulled the Tigers within a 19-18 deficit with nine minutes left in the first half as the Gamecocks had already fouled Auburn into the bonus. Auburn finally started to exert a little control with a Zep Jasper layup and a transition dunk from Kessler to take a 22-21 lead into a timeout from JSU.
After a missed out of bounds gave JSU a second chance that resulted in a three-point play, Auburn got a corner three from Jaylin Williams to take a 25-24 edge, and then a K.D. Johnson three was Auburn’s first unassisted bucket of the day and put the Tigers ahead 28-24 at the 3:47 mark.
K.D. Johnson turns to his bench after making that triple: "I'm back, bitch."— Nathan King (@NathanKing247) March 18, 2022
After three free throws from Gibbs, Jaylin Williams buried another three, then the Tigers forced a shot clock violation on the defensive end and took their largest lead of the game on a Walker Kessler dunk. At the 2:19 mark, the Tigers led 33-27. Kessler added a second-chance bucket on the offensive end and got hacked to cap an 8-0 run for Auburn.
Auburn’s defense ratcheted up, and a missed Jabari Smith free throw resulted in a Kessler rebound and a K.D. Johnson three to push the lead to 39-27, and the first half ended with the Tigers on an 11-0 run and JSU on a 5:39 streak without a field goal.
Auburn got an Allen Flanigan bucket and a pair of foul shots from K.D. Johnson to behin the second half and continue a 15-0 run, then Jabari Smith buried a transition three to push the edge to 46-27. Brandon Huffman finally ended an 18-0 run for Auburn when he went to the line to hit two free throws. Jabari hit another long transition three, and the Tigers took a 51-29 lead before Huffman earned a dunk to end a streak of more than nine minutes without a field goal for JSU.
Over the next couple of minutes Auburn suffered a couple of minor injuries, with Dylan Cardwell getting a little hit injury before Walker Kessler accidentally elbowed Jaylin Williams in the mouth, resulting in blood on both ends. JSU went on a 9-0 run over the next couple of minutes, but only cut the lead to 55-40, and Jabari Smith buried another three to end the spurt. At the under-12, the Tigers were still in full control with a 58-40 advantage.
JSU pulled within a 58-42 deficit, but Auburn quickly closed the door with solid defense leading to a Flanigan transition layup followed by Wendell Green’s pullup jumper in the lane, and the Gamecocks needed a timeout trailing 63-42. After JSU hit their first three since the first half, they were able to pull within a 65-50 deficit, but Auburn started to work at the foul line. A Jalen Finch three cut the lead to 67-55 with 6:45 to play, and Auburn was on a three-minute streak without a basket.
Wendell Green’s layup at the 3:45 mark ended a more than five-minute bucketless streak, but despite the missed shots Auburn led 73-56 as the clock melted below three minutes remaining in the game. After Auburn got a Walker Kessler dunk in transition, Jabari Smith put this one on ice with a capper of a dunk. He missed a three, got his own rebound, and threw it down over Huffman to finish the game. Auburn brought in the walk-ons after that and wrapped up an 80-61 victory.
Jabari Smith, future 1 overall NBA selection— Drew (@orangeanddrew) March 18, 2022
my god dude pic.twitter.com/jBtqppG4Q6
- Auburn’s guards were great in the first half, combining for 10 assists and 1 turnover. Huge difference from the last game against Texas A&M.
- The Tigers ratcheted up the defense at the end of the first half, getting 9 straight stops to finish the opening frame. Unreal.
- K.D. Johnson’s rebound from the SEC Tournament was so huge, getting 8 points in the first half and just looking like the sociopath we love and know.
- In a new arena, Auburn shot 50% from three and over 54% from the floor. That’s a huge upgrade from what we saw away from home during the regular season, and bodes well for the Tigers making the Sweet Sixteen.
- Allen Flanigan looked as good as he has at his peak since coming back from injury, and he turned it on during the second half. He got a ton of run in transition and became a go-to guy for the Tigers in those situations.
- This was on the way to becoming a super blowout if not for the injury sequence where Dylan Cardwell took a pop to the hip, then Walker Kessler chipped Jaylin Williams’ front teeth, and then Dylan lost a shoe. Auburn was up by 20+ during that time and should’ve kept going, but the weird tempo let JSU get back into it just a bit. As we hit the final timeout of the game, Walker Kessler was only one block away from a triple-double.
Auburn will meet the winner of the USC/Miami game in the 7/10 matchup sometime on Sunday. Game times will be announced after the conclusion of today’s matchups.