Observations: Auburn 80, Jacksonville State 61
The Tigers played their best ball in months at the perfect time, cruising past JSU to get a rare comfortable first win in the NCAA Tournament.
PF Jabari Smith (Matthew Shannon/Auburn Athletics)
It’s rare for Jabari Smith to miss a 3-pointer on the wing.
So it was surprising to see Smith’s attempt from his favorite spot on the floor clank off the front of the rim. With a little more than a minute left in a 19-point game, that would’ve been the ultimate exclamation point to Auburn’s NCAA Tournament win over Jacksonville State.
But when the ball came back to him for an offensive rebound, Smith decided to do something even more rare. He dribbled around his man, drove to the rim and threw down an and-one poster dunk over a Gamecock defender.
“Oh, my God… did y'all see that?” K.D. Johnson said afterwards. “That was crazy. I didn't know he was going to do that. He never did that in practice. That was the first time he showed me he can get that high.”
Dylan Cardwell and Wendell Green Jr. might have said it better without a saying a single word:
It was a rare moment to cap a rare win for Auburn. The No. 2 seed Tigers’ 80-61 victory over the No. 15 seed Gamecocks was the program’s first win in the first round that was decided by more than four points since 1999.
Auburn didn’t have to sweat things out like it had in its last four NCAA Tournament openers — or like Arkansas and UCLA did late Thursday night. (And then there are the likes of UConn, Iowa and Kentucky, who were all bounced by double-digit seeds.)
“We stepped up,” Bruce Pearl said. “We played better, as we talked about yesterday. I thought the guys did a terrific job sharing the basketball and making the extra pass and making each other better. We had to play well to beat that team, and we played well.”
There was some early drama, as Jacksonville State got hot early from 3-point range and hit quite a few tough shots to lead for 7:34 of the first half. But Auburn stayed the course with its defense, played some of its most free-flowing offense in a while and leaned on its stars to unleash a 30-7 run that solidified a comfortable win.
“I feel like we're best when we're having fun,” Smith said. “We're best when we're loose. We're best when we're defending. We've just got to get back to that. I feel like this game is really going to help us get back to that and get back to us.”
Here are five Observations from Auburn’s 80-61 tournament win over Jacksonville State, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day.