Observations: Auburn 78, Ole Miss 74
The Tigers avoided a disastrous loss Wednesday by reversing a recent trend and finishing strong on both ends in the final minutes.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Bruce Pearl summed it up perfectly when he sat down for his postgame press conference Wednesday night.
“Well,” Pearl said, snapping open a folded stat sheet for an extra bit of emphasis. “Needed that one.”
“That one” was Auburn’s home win over an Ole Miss team that has just won twice in SEC play this season. The Tigers avoided what would have been a harmful Quadrant 3 loss to their NCAA Tournament resume.
It wasn’t a comfortable or good-looking victory, either, as Ole Miss went on a game-changing 13-0 run midway through the second half and led by four with 6:21 remaining.
And Pearl’s “that one” could have applied to a lot of moments from Wendell Green Jr. and Johni Broome after the Rebels took a two-possession lead, because Auburn needed all of them.
Auburn needed Green’s instant response, a 3-point play on the other end of the floor.
Auburn needed Broome’s block at the rim a few seconds later. Auburn also needed his offensive rebound on the ensuing possession, and Auburn needed his assist to Green underneath the rim to take the lead.
Auburn needed another Broome offensive rebound and putback less than a minute later, followed by another block on the other end.
Auburn needed Green’s driving layup to go up by six, and it needed all six of his free-throw attempts down the stretch — with two more from Allen Flanigan, who also had a necessary, late defensive rebound.
Auburn needed a lot to get a must-win game to go its way. And Auburn got a lot from its starters, who played almost all of the final six minutes together.
“Get stops, get to the foul line,” Pearl said. “That's really key. It feels good. I'm very happy for our best players. I'm very happy for that group, because they stepped up.”
Of course, Pearl’s Tigers didn’t want to be in that position in the first place. The story of how they got there is a combination of an ineffective bench and a very lopsided rebounding margin.
Yet Auburn, led by its go-to players, overcame those issues down the stretch and reversed its recent trend of losing close games in the final minutes. (In fact, this was Auburn’s first single-digit win since the Mississippi State game… over a month ago.)
Sure, it helped that Ole Miss was a struggling team and Auburn was playing at home. But winning in that fashion should still be a confidence booster.
“It just shows that we're learning,” Green said. “We ended up getting to the free-throw line a lot. That was the main thing (Pearl) told us — at the end of games, we've gotta stop fouling and get to the free-throw line more. Automatic two points. I think we improved on that. Hopefully, we can keep improving on it down the road.”
Here are five Observations from Auburn’s 78-74 win over Ole Miss, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Johni Broome, Mr. ‘Incredible’
Broome has been Auburn’s best player this season. He leads the Tigers in points, rebounds, blocks, PER and win shares. At this rate, the big man should be in line for a spot on an All-SEC team.
And, simply put, Auburn does not beat Ole Miss on Wednesday night without Broome’s heroics. In the final 10 minutes of the game, Broome had six points, five rebounds, that one major assist to Green and five (!) blocks.
“It’s hard to imagine that there’s a better newcomer than Johni in our league,” Pearl said. “He’s your stat sheet stuffer. I’m on him pretty good, but I’ve always been on my best players. Always. I coach him hard. He stepped up, made plays at the end… called his number, and he delivered.”
When Broome was off the floor, Ole Miss had an easier time getting to the basket on Auburn’s defense. At one point in the second half, the Rebels had as many makes at the rim as Auburn had attempts.
But that changed late, with Broome coming up with several huge blocks — three of them while Auburn was trailing — and even more strong shot contests on stops.
“Just protecting the rim,” Broome said. “I felt like they got a couple of layups, and I feel like it's my job as the anchor of the defense to protect the rim. I tried my best to do that.”
It also helped that Broome had one of his best offensive performances of the season, scoring 19 points on 8-13 shooting. It wasn’t all just paint points, either. He hit a nice corner 3-pointer early in the second half, knocked down both of his free throws and cashed home a midrange jumper.
With 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists, six blocks, one steal and zero turnovers — and “incredible stat sheet,” as Pearl put it — Broome was the Game MVP on KenPom. Why is that important? Because Broome has been the Game MVP in each of Auburn’s last four wins.
When Broome is looking like the best player on the floor, that usually means great things for the Tigers. He’s had strong games in losses, too, but there’s something fitting about the transfer center being the top performer in a win that Auburn needed.
PG Wendell Green Jr. (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)