Observations: Auburn 89, Missouri 56
Auburn picked the perfect time to unleash a 33-point throttling of a comparable team in both the SEC standings — and NCAAT projections.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
In terms of pure vibes, not a lot seemed to be working in Auburn’s favor just before tipoff Tuesday night.
Auburn had lost three straight games and five of its last six. The Tigers had just had a brutal stretch of road games, followed by an emotional home matchup against red-hot rival Alabama. They had just three days to turn it around from that loss — one in which their lead slipped through their fingers in the final minutes.
On top of that, Missouri was fresh off of dropping 86 points on Tennessee’s potentially legendary defense in a road upset in Knoxville. The game was also being played on Valentine’s Night, which naturally meant a smaller-than-usual crowd both in the student section and the season ticket-holder seats.
If this was going to be a sleepy, lackluster night of basketball on the Plains, no one would have been surprised.
“Even if they didn't respond, I would've understood, just because they've had so much fatigue,” Bruce Pearl said.
Fast-forward to a little more than 10 minutes into the game. Jaylin Williams poked the ball away from a Missouri player, and it went right into the hands of Allen Flanigan. Racing down the floor, Flanigan sized up Missouri star Kobe Brown, cleared out with his right arm and delivered a Dunk of the Year contender.
“I almost got a tech for running on the court,” K.D. Johnson, who was on the bench when Flanigan dropped the hammer. “I’m glad Dylan (Cardwell) grabbed me, and he held me for about 10 seconds. That was crazy.”
“I stood at half court for about seven seconds with my mouth open,” said Johni Broome, pictured at the top of this newsletter.
“That was crazy,” Johnson said. “You know he had a little anger built up.”
Flanigan’s dunk was a fitting exclamation point on an unreal start for Auburn — one that matched the stakes of the “must-win” game, and one that didn’t match the more-muted pregame buzz.
The arena was roaring, because Auburn had opened up an unbelievable 30-6 lead on a Missouri team that is neck-and-neck with it in the SEC standings and the NCAA Tournament projections. Missouri never got within 17 points the rest of the way, and Auburn led by 30-plus points for the majority of the second half in a 89-56 throttling.
This didn’t look like the team that lost at Tennessee after a near-historic defensive performance. This didn’t look like the team that watched Texas A&M shoot an absurd number of free throws in another road loss. And this didn’t look like a team that had its collective heart broken three days earlier against Alabama.
No, this looked like a team that has a very short memory — and one that still has its eyes firmly set on the postseason.
“You're going to lose some or win some,” Johnson said. “You've got to come in the next day and work hard. The focus is on the next game. We lost a couple, but we've been focused on what's ahead of us and not what's behind us.
“If we keep that mindset, we're going to keep this going and make our way to March.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s commanding 33-point win over Missouri, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
SG K.D. Johnson (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn suffocated one of the nation’s best offenses
Missouri entered Tuesday night with the nation’s No. 4 offense in terms of opponent-adjusted efficiency, per KenPom. Dennis Gates’ Tigers ranked No. 7 nationally in effective field goal percentage and were the ninth highest-scoring team in the country.
Three days earlier, Missouri scored 21 points in the first 10 minutes against Tennessee and 23 more in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
On Tuesday night, Missouri didn’t score its 21st point until the 18:49 mark… of the second half. One of the nation’s best offenses averaged just .514 points per possession, turning it over more often (31.4%) than it scored (25.7%) and taking more than 12 minutes of game time just to get into double-digits on the scoreboard.
A lot will be made about Auburn scoring 89 points on a sizzling 48/50/80 team split. But this blowout win was built on the back of an Auburn defense choking the life out of Missouri.
“Can we hold Missouri under 73?” Pearl recalled asking his team before the game. “If we do, we're going to win the game. And it’s not often that can you give your kids almost a guarantee.”
Pearl gave credit to Ira Bowman and Mike Burgomaster for coming up with an excellent defensive game plan, one that forced a lot of early turnovers and very few opportunities to get hot from beyond the arc. And, like Pearl has mentioned over the last few weeks, his players did a great job of sticking to the script.
“BP gave us a game plan, he enforced it, and we just followed it,” Johnson said. “We came out and played as hard as we could, and you see the results."
Missouri went 0-8 on 3-pointers in the first half, which meant it would be nearly impossible to get to its magic, undefeated number of 33% or better from deep. And when Missouri improved in the second half on offense, it was still well under its usual marks in points per possession (1.056) and 2-point field goal percentage (35.3%).
Auburn did a much better job of affecting shots at the rim and not letting Missouri get downhill as easily as Alabama did. The on-ball pressure was immense, and the backside rotations were as good as they’ve been all season. Auburn simply did what it does best, and it was perfect for a five-out, dribble-heavy offense like Missouri.
“I thought our techniques and our system matched up really well tonight with Missouri,” Pearl said. “It's all about matchups.”
And, like Pearl said, Auburn literally won all of its matchups Tuesday night.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
The bigs dominated a very favorable matchup again
It’s very easy to see where Auburn had the edge in this one. Missouri has an experienced, physical backcourt, but it’s very undersized up front. The 6-foot-8 Kobe Brown is Missouri’s second-tallest rotation piece, and the sweet-shooting Alabama native plays more like a guard than a true forward.
Because of those size issues, Missouri is one of the worst rebounding power-conference teams, and it gives up quite a lot on defense.
This had to be a big-time game for Auburn’s frontcourt. And it was just that.