Observations: Auburn 84, Alabama A&M 54
The first half was fantastic. The second half was frustrating. The push for a complete game continues for these Tigers.
PF Chaney Johnson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn basketball’s fifth game of the season went a lot like its first four.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Tigers are No. 15 in the KenPom ratings, and playing like they had so far in the campaign Tuesday night was always going to net them a blowout win over in-state SWAC foe Alabama A&M.
Auburn won by 30. The vast majority of the time against a Division I opponent, that’s an outstanding result with little or nothing to complain about.
But the Tigers were favored by 32.5 and led by as many as 43. Computer metrics referenced on NCAA team sheets, such as KenPom, had the Tigers winning by around 33. That meant that anything above that would be a ratings-boosting performance — and anything under it would affect the numbers negatively.
After going into halftime with a 34-point lead, Auburn eventually lost the second half by four, leaving a not-so-great taste in the mouths of Bruce Pearl and his players.
“There's a certain number you've got to get in order for that win to be a quality win, and we were very close to that number,” Pearl said. “We didn't quite make the number. So, a 30-point win whenever you're supposed to win by whatever you're supposed to win by — we didn't meet the mark.
“That's why you're going to see teams playing for 40 minutes now. Gotta keep playing.”
Auburn dominated the first half by a score of 49-15, opening on a 12-0 run and closing on a 22-1 run. Then Alabama A&M won the second half by a score of 39-35.
“We’re trying to put a good game together all the way through, and that’s just not something we did today,” center Dylan Cardwell said. “This team scored, like… 30-something points. We just can’t do that after letting up only 15 in the first half.
“We as a team have to be more disciplined and locked in in the second half, and not just take these games for granted.”
Pearl had an even stronger take on the split, saying “that first-half team can win some games” while “that second-half team couldn't win an SEC game, not a one.”
“I'm disappointed, but I wish I was surprised,” Pearl said. “I'm not.”
The Tigers are 4-1, having won all the games they were supposed to win and holding steady to the early-season metrics. They’ll get multiple days off for Thanksgiving, as they’ll have extra time to prepare for their next game, a home one against Virginia Tech in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.
Things are objectively good for this high-scoring Auburn basketball team. But it’s easy to see where it could better — and, so, the quest for that first complete game continues.
“We really haven't put two halves together yet,” Pearl said. “Great second half against Notre Dame. Great first half against Baylor. Great first half against St. Bonaventure. Great first half here tonight.
“But we haven't put two together, so that's for me to figure out.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 84-54 win over Alabama A&M, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
SG K.D. Johnson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
The first half was fantastic
Auburn rolled out a brand-new starting lineup Tuesday night, with point guards Aden Holloway and Tre Donaldson playing together with forwards Chris Moore and Jaylin Williams. At center, Dylan Cardwell got a rare start.
It would have been difficult for that unique group to get off to a better start, as the Tigers were up 10-0 on the Bulldogs before the first substitution was made.
“One of our goals wasn’t to come out and underestimate our opponent,” power forward Chaney Johnson said. “So, I mean, the starting five just came out there and played like they were playing Kentucky or Duke. You feel me?”
Regular starters Denver Jones and Johni Broome quickly checked into the game, so Auburn had its full 10-man rotation at its disposal.
For those who liked the two-point guard lineup, don’t fall in love with it: Pearl said the changes to the starting five “had to do with some in-house stuff” and “has nothing to do with anything else.”
And, still, Auburn was excellent in the first half — no matter who was on the floor together. The Tigers averaged an absurd 1.485 points per possession, scoring on nearly 70% of their trips. Eight different Tigers scored at least four points, and seven of them recorded at least one assist.
“We want to get all the guys involved,” Cardwell said. “A team that has 10 guys that can score the ball is a very hard team to cover, a very hard team to scout for.”
Even in a half without lights-out 3-point (30.8%) or free-throw (64.3%) shooting, the Tigers were scoring at will. They had 13 assists to just one turnover. Several players made highlight-reel plays, from absurd passes and dribble moves to breakaway dunks and powerful alley-oops.
On the defensive end, Auburn held Alabama A&M to a ridiculously low .455 points per possession, forcing more turnovers (30.3%) than allowing scoring trips (21.2%). The Tigers out-rebounded the Bulldogs by 12 in the first half while blocking four shots and coming up with six steals. The end result was the third-lowest scoring half of basketball for any opponent in Neville Arena history.
Alabama A&M is expected to be one of the worst teams in Division I basketball this season, so lighting up the scoreboard isn’t a surprise at all. But Auburn was covering the point spread by halftime, racking up big plays all throughout the rotation to keep a strong-for-Thanksgiving-week home crowd on their feet for most of the first half.
“Seeing the guys fly around with that energy, the second group tries to emulate that,” Cardwell said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do the rest of our games: Make sure we’re starting out hot so we don’t have to come back and build that back up.”
(Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers)
The second half was frustrating
Auburn opened the second half against Alabama A&M on a 15-6 run, stretching the lead out to a massive 43 points. But there were cracks already starting to form on the Tigers’ performance, as they had four quick turnovers after going giveaway-free for most of the first half.