Observations: Auburn 81, South Carolina 66
The Tigers continue to take care of business against a favorable first half of the SEC schedule — and their vets are really clicking now.
PG Wendell Green Jr. (Steven Leonard/Auburn Athletics)
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Right before Auburn basketball was set to travel more than 1,300 miles roundtrip in the span of four days, Bruce Pearl pointed out that his Tigers hadn’t gotten off to a good start yet in an SEC road game.
The message was delivered, loud and clear. On Wednesday, Auburn raced out to an early 8-2 lead in Baton Rouge en route to an 18-point win over LSU.
Then, on Saturday, Auburn grabbed a 9-2 advantage on two dunks from Johni Broome and two pure jumpers from Wendell Green Jr. en route to a 15-point win over South Carolina.
Two road games, two opportunities to show growth. Check and check.
“We like to start off early and put the pressure on them,” Broome said. “We work on those looks in practice, and it was good to see those looks go in.”
And, yes, they came against the two worst teams in the SEC. But the pair of comfortable victories are still quite significant, considering Auburn hadn’t beaten back-to-back conference opponents on the road by 15 or more since 1966.
“Played well early both times. I honestly think it’s the experience of Johni's third year, Al's fourth year, Jaylin's fourth year… Zep's seventh year,” Pearl said with a wry smile.
Auburn’s veterans are playing like veterans should, particularly away from home. After most of them struggled in a wake-up call of a loss at Georgia, they’ve rallied to win five straight in SEC play — which puts them in a tie for second with Tennessee.
Broome, who Pearl said Thursday would get back to doubling-doubling “soon,” demolished an undersized South Carolina frontcourt for 27 points and 11 rebounds.
Green scored 16 points and dished out 12 assists, his most in an Auburn uniform.
Jaylin Williams scored at least a dozen points for the fourth straight time.
And Allen Flanigan was two points away from a double-double of his own, but he’ll settle for eight points, 10 rebounds and a ferocious display of wing defense.
Auburn closed the first half on a 12-3 run, opened the second half on another 12-3 run to build a 26-point lead and responded to South Carolina’s best shot with a 12-2 run to cruise to a 15-point win that never seemed to be in jeopardy.
Here are five Observations from Auburn’s 81-66 win at South Carolina, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Johni Broome had a favorable matchup and dominated it
After recording a double-double in his first four SEC games, Broome was the focal point of the opponents’ defensive game plan in the last two contests. Mississippi State used Tolu Smith and several physical forwards to limit Broome’s damage, and LSU packed it in with a pair of 6-foot-10 starters earlier in the week.
Between that extra attention and a toe sprain that slowed him down, Broome only had 10 points and 10 rebounds across those two games.
But South Carolina was a different matchup entirely. Star freshman GG Jackson stands at 6-foot-9, yet the Gamecocks chose to guard Broome with the more experienced Hayden Brown — who is only 6-foot-5.
Broome wasted no time in showing that this game was going to be different, hammering home a pair of dunks for Auburn’s first four points of the game.
“I’ve had a couple of rough games, and it was good to just get going early,” Broome said. “Coach made good play calls to get me going.”
Even when South Carolina rotated in its lesser-used big men — the 7-foot Josh Gray and a pair of 6-foot-8 bench forwards — it was more of the same for Broome. He hit 12 of his 17 shots, and four of them were dunks. When the Gamecocks tried to give him more cushion in the second half, he started hitting touch shots in the paint.
“Coming into the game, we knew a lot of plays were going to work for the short rolls and late at the rim,” Broome said. “That’s what we did.”
Broome became only the third Auburn player since 2010 to have 25-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in a single game, joining Mustapha Heron and Jabari Smith. The junior center has had some big stat lines in his career, but this was arguably his most efficient to date:
South Carolina’s 2-point field goal defense is No. 301 in the country, and it has no real consistent rim protection. The Tigers picked that apart, going on several big runs because the Gamecocks had no answer for Broome and Williams — who were clicking on offense together for the first time in a while.
“We have a good connection,” Broome said. “We make a lot of the same shots. We kind of feed off of each other. Some nights, when he’s not having the most explosive game, I’ll carry the load. And when I’m not having an explosive night, he’ll carry the load. … But when we can put together a game where we’re both scoring, it’s something special.”
#HeadbandWen continues his incredible tear
It didn’t take long to see that Broome wasn’t going to be the only Auburn player who was in for a special game.
Green assisted Broome on his first dunk, then he put together back-to-back buckets to build that early lead. He went on another flurry in the late first-half run, racking up three assists in 1:35 of game time. Green went to the halftime locker room with six assists, which was more than he had in 11 of his last 12 games.
Then he went out and got six more in the second half, including one of the most utterly absurd passes you’ll ever see: