Observations: Auburn 83, Arkansas 51
Even after a slow shooting start, the Tigers made a statement by handing the Razorbacks their worst home loss... ever.
SF Chad Baker-Mazara (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Auburn had seen this movie before.
On Saturday afternoon, in hostile territory, Auburn only hit three of its first 15 shots from the field. The Tigers couldn’t buy a jumper from distance, and they kept seeing their closer-range looks rim out.
The last time Auburn played a true road game, it shot 11.1% from 3-point range and didn’t have enough firepower to pull out a win late. The Tigers could only watch as a sellout crowd at Appalachian State’s Holmes Center — with a capacity of 8,325 — stormed the floor.
The last time Auburn played a true road game at Arkansas, like it had Saturday, fans stormed the floor. And Bud Walton Arena, with a capacity of nearly 20,000, is known to be one of the toughest places to play in college basketball.
Auburn had only won there five times in program history, and it had lost seven straight true road games, dating back to last season. The Tigers can play fantastic basketball at home and in neutral sites, but can they do it on the road? Early on Saturday, it looked doubtful.
“We had adversity out there,” head coach Bruce Pearl said. “We could’ve gotten run out of here early.”
But basketball is much more than just field goal percentages. As Pearl loves to say, defense and rebounding win road games in the SEC. Even though the Tigers weren’t shooting well, they held a sizable advantage on the boards and were making the Razorbacks struggle just as much — if not more — with their own offense.
Saturday was a day of double vindication for Pearl and his team.
Auburn scheduled the road trip to App State and lost, but Pearl felt like it was the right thing to do. Auburn also entered SEC play with a rare 11-man rotation and stuck to it.
Unsurprisingly, the Tigers’ bench both pulled the team back from an early deficit and finished the first half with a flourish. The starters struggled, but it didn’t matter.
“I’ll be honest with you, I think even our bench players could be starters,” said Chad Baker-Mazara, who had 14 first-half points in his SEC debut. “We have 11-deep in our rotation, and anyone of us could really start. So it’s not really much of a drop-off when it comes to the bench. The starters probably didn’t start the game really good, but the bench is, like, ‘OK, let’s start it up for us.’”
Then, after halftime, everybody in orange and blue played well. Johni Broome went from scoreless in the first half to sizzling in the second half. The Tigers shot 57.6% from the field and 62.5% from deep. The Razorbacks were held to 33.3% and 22.2%, respectively, and had three times as many turnovers as assists.
“We just played great basketball,” Pearl said.
Instead of watching fans storm the court again, Auburn got to see the cavernous arena empty out by the final few minutes of the game. What was an ear-splittingly loud venue an hour earlier was quiet down the stretch.
The Tigers scored 11 of the last 14 points of the game to win by 32 — now the biggest home loss for Arkansas in the program’s illustrious, championship-winning history.
“That's incredible,” Baker-Mazara said. “You're always seeing online how this is one of the best arenas to play at. To be honest, it really was. In the beginning, it was extremely loud. You couldn't hear the guys on the court or the ones next to me.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s historic 83-51 thumping of Arkansas, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
PG Tre Donaldson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
That is why Auburn plays a deep rotation
At the end of the first half, Auburn’s starters had combined to make only four shots in 20 minutes. Broome, Aden Holloway and Chris Moore were all in the negatives in plus/minus. The Tigers nearly had as many turnovers as assists and shot 20% from 3-point range.
And yet Auburn was up by seven points at halftime. The bench had combined for 28 of the Tigers’ 37 points. Tre Donaldson was a team-high +16 in plus/minus. Baker-Mazara made impact play after impact play on both ends of the floor. Dylan Cardwell was making his presence felt while Broome got off to a slow start at center.
Arkansas led Auburn by six early, but Auburn stuck to its usual rotation. By the time the starters began to rotate back into the game, it was tied again. The reserves were providing their obligatory first-half spark — and they were doing it when the Tigers needed it the most, inside a hostile environment to open SEC play.
“They settled us down,” Pearl said. “They really, really did. Our starting group was unsettled.”
Auburn doesn’t have a clear-cut first-round NBA Draft talent like it had two seasons ago. Its most talented player on paper, Holloway, is in a shooting slump at the moment. Its All-SEC center, Broome, didn’t make a big impact early in this one.
For other teams, that would sink them. But Auburn is built around the fact that there isn’t much drop-off between the starters and its backups. That’s helpful in winning a war of attrition, and Auburn was the more physical team from front to back Saturday.
“Coach has been, the whole week before this game, like, ‘It’s SEC time. It’s no more little boys. We’re playing big dogs,’” Baker-Mazara said. “And I feel like everybody took that personally.”