Observations: Memphis 82, Auburn 73
Auburn's first loss of the season was a case of getting beaten at its own game — an uncharacteristically bad defensive showing mixed with a decisive defeat down low.
C Dylan Cardwell (Steven Leonard/Auburn Athletics)
ATLANTA — The chant from the small but vocal Memphis crowd started as soon as the clock hit all zeroes.
“Whoop that trick! Whoop that trick! Whoop that trick!”
It’s pure Memphis — particularly Memphis basketball. It started in the 2013 NBA playoffs, with Grizzlies fans chanting the line from the 2005 Memphis-based film Hustle and Flow. Somewhere along the way, the college team that shares the FedEx Forum with the Grizzlies adopted it as well.
“It’s mind-blowing how ‘Whoop That Trick’ turned into this will-to-win motivation,” said Al Kapone, who performed the song. “We are the underdogs, we’re always looked at as the underdogs, we’re David always going against Goliath, that song represents the underdog fight and we’re definitely here to be victorious.”
Auburn wasn’t exactly Goliath compared to Memphis on Saturday in Atlanta. But Penny Hardaway’s Tigers were the underdogs, and they decisively beat Bruce Pearl’s Tigers at their own game.
This Auburn team has been one that has to succeed on the inside — protecting the rim, winning the rebounding battle and scoring in the paint. Memphis had a combined 22 blocks and layups, out-rebounded Auburn by 11 and dominated the points in the paint margin, 50-24.
The nation’s top shot-blocking team only finished with two rejections, and they both came in the final three minutes of the game.
“It's the first time that defense didn't carry the day for us,” Pearl said. “I knew the offense would be challenged, but we really, really weren't very well-prepared. Didn't play with the kind of effort and energy that we've been playing with on the defensive end. I've got to take ownership of that. I'll put the loss on me.
“I got out-coached. Our team got out-prepared. They were more ready to play than we were, and that's on me.”
Hardaway got the better of Pearl. Memphis’ highly experienced backcourt got the better of Auburn. And Memphis’ smaller, yet more athletic frontcourt definitely got the better of Auburn’s new-look frontcourt.
The 82-73 final score, in all honesty, might have been kind to Auburn. There will be a lot to learn from it, as a repeat performance against more quality opponents to finish non-conference play and open SEC action could be very costly.
“We're definitely going to go back home, look at our mistakes and all that,” small forward Chris Moore said. “But it's just (one) game, and we've got to have a short-term memory.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s rough loss to Memphis, along with the Rotation Chart, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
C Dylan Cardwell (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn ‘can’t win the game’ giving up 82 points
Coming into the weekend, Auburn and Memphis were alike in a lot of ways. One of the main similarities was that both sets of Tigers were better on defense than offense.
Auburn had a top-10 defense that was towards the top of the country in a lot of categories, including opponent-adjusted efficiency. But that wasn’t the defense that showed up in Atlanta, as Auburn gave up 82 points to Memphis — its most since that marathon double-overtime loss to UConn last November, when the Huskies scored 83 in regulation.
“Look, we could've won the game scoring 73 points,” Pearl said. “But we can't win the game with Memphis scoring 82.”
Pearl is right. Well-documented offensive problems aside, Auburn scored 73 on Saturday against a good Memphis defense. That would’ve been enough to win every other game it’s played this season. And great defense can beat great teams, as evidenced by Alabama scoring only 71 in a comeback win at No. 1 Houston on Saturday.
But Auburn had an extremely rough time trying to slow down Memphis, especially the highly experienced backcourt tandem of Kendric Davis and Alex Lomax, who combined for 40 points themselves.
Memphis finished with an effective field goal percentage of 53.3% and an offensive efficiency of 105.6, per KenPom. Not only were those by far the season highs, they would’ve been the third-highest eFG% allowed and the fourth-highest opponent efficiency for Auburn’s defense a season ago.
As previously stated, Memphis had 22 combined layups and dunks. It shot 66% at the rim, and Auburn didn’t get any blocks until late in the game.