Observations: Auburn 83, Iowa 75
Of course the Tigers had another game go down to the wire. But, when it mattered most, they delivered — and they're still dancing.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
BIRMINGHAM — When Bruce Pearl called a timeout with 4:56 left on the clock, he had a question for his team.
Pearl is well-known in college basketball for being extremely passionate on the sidelines, cranking up both the volume and the intensity at a moment’s notice.
Iowa had just slammed home a dunk to cut what was once a 17-point Auburn lead to four. The Hawkeyes were doing what they did best: Hitting big shots from all over the place with some of the most speed and efficiency you can find anywhere in college basketball.
You could practically hear the doubt creeping into the heavily pro-Tigers crowd in Birmingham. Nervous energy was in the air.
But, over on the bench, Pearl was composed. He looked all of his players’ in the eyes and spoke in a voice that only they could hear.
“I said, ‘Look, we're up four, and there's five minutes left to go in the game,’” Pearl said. “I said, ‘If we could (have given you) that situation before the game, would you take it? I think we would have taken it.
“Let's just calm down.”
Pearl’s message — and the way he delivered it — made quite the impact on his players.
“Y’all see BP as always yelling, screaming and always red,” Tre Donaldson said. “He was chill, relaxed and making jokes. We’re good. He has the confidence in us, and we had the confidence in him.
“We just played Auburn basketball. When we play Auburn basketball, it’s really hard to beat us.”
From that timeout to the end of regulation, Auburn went a perfect 4-4 from the field and a clutch 11-13 from the free-throw line. More importantly, it forced Iowa to miss seven of its next 10 shots and put together five huge defensive stops.
Auburn’s tenuous 4-point lead doubled down the stretch for an 83-75 win, keeping the Tigers’ season alive for at least another game.
“We knew (Iowa) had another run in them,” said center Johni Broome, who had two solo defensive stops and two perfect free-throw trips after Pearl’s timeout. “They weren't going to go away. Once they cut it to four we just held up and said we've got to get stops and win this game. We relied on each other — box outs, rebounds, contended shots.”
Iowa’s nuclear-grade offense, which erased a 10-point deficit in 40 seconds against Michigan State earlier this season, never got within two possessions.
And an Auburn team that has struggled to finish close games throughout the season got the clutch performance it needed when it mattered the most.
“Been in that position a lot,” said Wendell Green Jr., who had 10 of his 15 points and two of his three assists in the final five minutes. “I've failed. I've succeeded. We've failed. We've succeeded. You know, I trust myself, (my teammates) trust me, and I trust them.
“It feels so good to just finish in this tournament.”
For the 11th time in 11 tries, Auburn has won a Round of 64 game in the NCAA Tournament.
Even in a season that has featured its fair share of frustrations and disappointments, these 2022-23 Tigers have etched their names into a postseason legacy that continues to grow for a program that isn’t too far removed from a long March Madness drought.
“You walk in Auburn's locker room, and there's a sign that says ‘AU: Make History,’” Pearl said. “And we knew going into this game that Auburn and our basketball program had won 10 straight first-round games, but this matchup against Iowa was not going to be easy.
“But we wanted to be able to add to the history.”
For more on how these Tigers were able to do that Thursday night in their home state, here are five Observations — plus the Rotation Charts, the Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night — from their 83-75 win over Iowa.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Johni Broome was just ‘too dominant’
Two years ago, Broome went to the NCAA Tournament as a member of a No. 14 seed Morehead State team that was overmatched by West Virginia.
In his return to the Big Dance, Broome was the big difference.
Broome had 19 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks against an Iowa team that didn’t have a true center. He became the first SEC player with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in an NCAA Tournament game since Anthony Davis in 2012.
“Johni Broome was too dominant inside,” Pearl said.
In a game that felt like it was going to be decided by who did the best around the rim, Broome outscored both of Iowa’s frontcourt starters — potential NBA pick Kris Murray (15 points, but he only hit two shots from inside the arc) and Filip Rebraca (14 points).
Neither of them cracked double-digits in rebounds, and Broome also had more blocks than Iowa did as an entire team (two).
“I’m just trying to dominate each and every day, dominate my matchup,” Broome said. “It feels good. A lot of times the ball was coming my way, so I was able to make plays on the ball.”
What was even bigger for Broome was the way he shot the ball. He continued to be a late-season revelation from deep, knocking down a 3-pointer during Auburn’s massive barrage early in the second half. Then, after missing a pair of and-one free throws in the first half, he didn’t miss a single one late.
“Good players make shots when their team needs it,” said Broome, who noted that he was 1-6 from the line in Auburn’s SEC Tournament loss against Arkansas. “Those were crucial free throws, and I couldn't let them slip.”
Broome has been Auburn’s best player this season, and that held up in the NCAA Tournament. He had massive shoes to fill, as the Tigers tasked him with replacing National Defensive Player of the Year and current NBA rookie star Walker Kessler at center.
But, as Broome said Thursday, he came to Auburn to expand his game and play on a bigger stage. And even in a matchup that had a potential NBA player out there, Broome did what his teammates knew he was capable of doing.
“Johni’s always been that dog,” Chris Moore said. “Coming from the OVC, he’s always been that underdog type of person, but he’s never wavered from competition, never wavered from somebody having a pro or somebody they’re putting over him at the five position. He always came out and performed and lifted us.”
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