What was once a season where Auburn had dreams of a national title ends with a whimper in Greenville.
The Tigers fall to 10-seed Miami 79-61 tonight in the Round of 32 in the worst game the Tigers played this season. While many thought that guard play would be the end for Auburn at some point, it was the All-American combination of Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler that didn’t provide any spark tonight as the Tigers were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.
Smith and Kessler combined for just 12 in an awful effort as Miami was able to frustrate the Tigers from the start with more aggressive defense than the Auburn seemed to expect. It quite honestly looked like Auburn didn’t prepare at all, what with the number of lazy passes and shock at the constant double teams. Combine that with two early fouls on Kessler putting him on the bench, and the inability to hit routine layups, and the Tigers had no way to get into the game and erase a deficit when Miami hit shots early. Isaiah Wong led all scorers with 21 points, and Kameron McGusty added 20, as the Miami starters combined for 75 of the Hurricanes’ 79 points and only turned the ball over 4 times.
Jaylin Williams (12 points) and Wendell Green (11 points) played well off the bench, and KD Johnson showed the effort that we come to expect from him with 12 points in a starting role. Meanwhile, Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler combined for 12 points on 3-22 shooting. Smith did pull down a season-high 15 rebounds, and played well at times on defense, but he was the reason for a few key turnovers to set the tone early.
Miami got up 8-2 early while skipping in front of passing lanes and hitting shots, and led 17-8 at the under-12 timeout. Walker Kessler was saddled with two fouls in the opening three minutes and had to sit for most of the first half. Both sides struggled to score over the next several minutes, and Miami led 23-14 with 7:26 left in the opening half before Auburn started to make a little run. Zep Jasper and Devan Cambridge hit consecutive buckets before a pair of free throws from Green pulled the Tigers within a 23-20 deficit.
Miami pushed the margin back to 7 points at 29-22 after two Charlie Moore foul shots, but two Jaylin Williams threes pulled Auburn back into it as they trailed just 33-30 in the closing moments. A Wendell Green layup in the final minute sent us to halftime with the Hurricanes up 33-32 after dominating most of the first half.
Hoping that Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith would come back and find their form after a disappointing first twenty minutes, Auburn fans felt fairly confident heading into the second half, but Miami extended the lead and never really looked back. From the 18:49 mark to the 17:34 mark, the Hurricanes went on an 8-0 run and built a 41-32 lead as Auburn struggled to put the ball in the basket at point blank range. The closest that Auburn would get from there was when KD Johnson hit a three to pull the Tigers within a 41-37 deficit. After that, a Charlie Moore three pushed the lead back to nine points, and an Isaiah Wong three-point play at the 12:03 mark gave Miami their first double-digit lead at 53-43. That margin extended to 60-47 with a Kameron McGusty layup, but Auburn had one final push that amounted to little. The Tigers pulled back within 8 points after a Green three and a bevy of free throws from Smith and Devan Cambridge. Trailing 64-56, they then failed to find any sort of offensive rhythm and the defense faltered, allowing Miami to reestablish a 70-58 edge.
From there, both sides knew it was over with less than three minutes remaining, and Auburn only slipped further behind, eventually falling 79-61 to end the season.
Coming later. Need some time to digest this type of end to the season.