Observations: Auburn 82, Ole Miss 59
For all 40 minutes, these Tigers are having fun on both ends of the floor — and now they're solo leaders in the early SEC race.
SG K.D. Johnson and PF Chaney Johnson (Grayson Belanger/Auburn Tigers)
Ole Miss had the perfect opportunity to end the game with a fast-break bucket. The block and the quick kick-ahead pass had the Rebels cruising toward an easy layup.
Then Chaney Johnson, who was about 20 feet behind the ball when the play began, rose up to pin the attempt toward the backboard. The UAH transfer flew so high and so far for the block, he almost hit his face on the glass.
The ball fell down to a trailing Ole Miss big man, who had a perfect opportunity to clean it up for a putback. Then Addarin Scott came over to swat the ball from behind. When the Rebels went up for the shot again, Scott pulled off Auburn’s third block in roughly five seconds.
On the other end of the court, Auburn’s bench ran onto the floor in celebration as the final buzzer sounded. They celebrated with Johnson and Scott like they had just won the Tigers the game.
But Auburn won by 23 points. The triple block, essentially, only kept Auburn from winning by “only” 21 points.
“I apologize if that came off as disrespectful,” said center Dylan Cardwell, who was one of the ringleaders of the energetic celebration at the horn. “It wasn't any disrespect towards Ole Miss. It was more towards a genuine friendship. … That was, like, the most crazy play that I've seen in a while. It's insane that the game would end on that.
“Pretty much just showed how much we love and care for each other.”
Cardwell has been at Auburn for four seasons. He’s been to the NCAA Tournament twice with the Tigers, and he helped them win an SEC championship two years ago. But Cardwell calls this particular Auburn team “the closest” in his career.
And it’s showing on the floor. On Saturday night, Auburn led for all but 1:55 of a 82-59 rout of Ole Miss. The Tigers were up by as many as 35 points in the second half, dominating on both ends. And, with the victory, they secured solo first place in the early SEC title race — and their 11th straight win by double-digits.
“It’s everything, their closeness,” Pearl said afterwards. “But we haven't hit any adversity yet either, now. So, adversity can build character, but it will reveal it. And we haven't had much adversity. … But they do get close.
“They love, they appreciate Auburn. They appreciate The Jungle. They appreciate Neville, and they appreciate the support. You bring those two things together, and it's a powerful force.”
Auburn basketball is, quite simply, a powerful force. While the Tigers are about to enter their first big stretch of Quad 1 games, they’ve still done enough to settle in as a top-five team in the computer ratings.
No other major-conference men’s college basketball team is as hot as Auburn right now. That will be put to the test over soon. But, for now, these close-knit Tigers are clearly enjoying the journey with one another.
“So far, they're having fun in spite of me,” Pearl said. “We are still not as good as they think we are right now. We're not. We're better than they thought we were. We'll just see. We'll just keep playing it out. This was a very good win tonight, because of the margin against against a good team. We'll see what this week brings.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 82-59 win over Ole Miss, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
PF Jaylin Williams (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn has a truly elite defense
Auburn is now 5-0 in SEC play. During those five SEC games, the Tigers have allowed an average of 61.6 points per game. Three of those teams haven’t even cracked 60 points on the Tigers, and LSU was the only one to score more than 65.
Ole Miss was held to a season-low 27 points in the first half and averaged 0.9 points per possession. The second half wasn’t much better (0.941 PPP), and the Rebels shot just 29% from the field after halftime.
Tennessee, which has the nation’s No. 2 defense on KenPom, held Ole Miss to an offensive rating of 92.6 and an effective field goal percentage of 48.1% two weeks ago. Auburn held Ole Miss to an offensive rating of 88.9 and an effective field goal percentage of 40.4% on Saturday night.
“They were locked in, and I think they are beginning to enjoy that they have the ability to make it difficult on the opponent,” Pearl said. “And they are creating some offense from their defense. But it goes back to being unselfish.
“Do you realize what it takes to be in the right spot at the right time and do the things that they’ve gotta do to be able sit down and guard? … The defense can carry us if we can continue to do this. Our mind is set.”
Ole Miss entered the game with four different players averaging at least 12 points per game, including former Auburn wing Allen Flanigan. Flanigan was the only Rebel to score in double figures in this game, and he had just 10 points.
Leading scorer Matthew Murrell, who scored 23 and 24 points in his two games against Auburn last season, finished with eight points Saturday. Jaylen Murray also finished with eight points, and Jaemyn Brakefield only had seven.
“We realized after watching (Ole Miss’ loss to LSU this week) that those four guys scored the 87 points, and the bench only shot seven shots,” Cardwell said. “So, if we realized if we wanted to win that game, it starts with those four first.”
While Auburn didn’t do as good of a job of cleaning up the defensive glass and avoiding fouls in the second half, Ole Miss still finished the game shooting 36.8% from the field and 23.5% from deep with six more turnovers (17) than assists (11).
And this was the same Ole Miss team that scored 103 points on Florida last week and 80 against LSU earlier this week. This is a top-50 offense nationally, and Auburn made it look like a paycheck game opponent.