Observations: Auburn 91, Ole Miss 77
The Tigers were down by 13 to a team that hadn't lost at home. Then they rattled off one of the best second halves you'll ever see.
SG K.D. Johnson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
OXFORD, Miss. — This has been called the hardest-working Auburn basketball team of the Bruce Pearl era.
It has also been called the closest, most tight-knit Tigers squad in years.
But it’s easy to say those things when you’re cruising to nothing but double-digit wins for more than a month. It’s much more difficult when those things get put to the test, like an emotional rivalry game at Alabama or a defensive slugfest at Mississippi State.
Or, say, when you find yourself down by 13 points late in the first half at Ole Miss — which hasn’t lost a home game all season.
What is this Auburn team made of? Does it only look great against the teams it’s supposed to beat? Does it have what it takes to fight through adversity on the road, where the rims and whistles aren’t nearly as kind as they are back home?
What happens when it’s pushed to the brink yet again?
On Saturday, Auburn found some answers to those questions. And they were as loud and emphatic as K.D. Johnson hanging on the rim after a putback dunk to close a 14-point comeback win.
“I didn’t know we had this,” Pearl said after Auburn’s 91-77 win. “I didn’t know.”
The rally started after Ole Miss guard Matthew Murrell buried a 3-pointer to give himself 14 first-half points. At that point, the Rebels were shooting 53.6% from the field and an even 50% from deep.
Auburn guard Denver Jones countered with an aggressive drive to the basket to get a 3-point play. The next possession ended with a 3-pointer from Jaylin Williams, who had struggled for the first 17 minutes and change. Jones would close the first half a couple of trips later with a corner 3 to cut Ole Miss’ lead to single-digits.
In the locker room, Pearl and his coaching staff had a quick word with their players, then left.
“You know what?” Pearl said. “This is their team. I’ve coached a lot of teams, I hope to coach a few more. And it’s their team. … They said what needed to be said.”
Chad Baker-Mazara delivered a halftime speech, telling his teammates that they just couldn’t lose a third straight road game. Johni Broome, who didn’t score at all in the first half, spoke up, along with several others in the room.
They weren’t fire-and-brimstone sermons.
The tone was positive. Uplifting. Hopeful.
“It was like, ‘We’re still in the game,’” Broome said. “We weren't pointing out anybody. We were just encouraging everybody on getting what we needed to win this ball game. Everybody came out with a different spark. We just needed everybody on the same page — I've got your back, you've got my back.
“Let's go out here and win the game.”
Auburn then opened the second half on a 17-4 run. In less than five minutes, the Tigers had their first lead of the night.
A sellout crowd in Oxford could sense what was coming next. Ole Miss would retake the lead a couple more times, but it had no answer for what Auburn was doing on offense.
A 6-0 run midway through the half gave Auburn the lead for good. Six minutes of game time later, Broome went on a personal 7-0 run that pushed the Tigers’ advantage to double-digits. Baker-Mazara would later score eight points in a minute, even though Auburn’s win was already well in hand. Johnson’s dunk punctuated it all.
The final result: A 56-point second half that shattered through the ceiling of the highest expectations for Auburn’s offense. The Tigers scored on nearly 80% of their trips down the floor. They averaged 1.697 points per possession. They shot 73.3% from the field and 62.5% from 3-point range.
What some fans and outside observers thought would be another rough performance away from home for Auburn turned into the program’s single-most efficient true road game since 1999 at least — posting an offensive rating of 132.6.
“This team showed a lot of heart, a lot of character,” Pearl said. “And to come back and have 25 assists? That's pretty basketball. … More than anything else, my confidence in them jumped a notch tonight. It did.
“And their confidence in themselves should jump a notch.”
Here are three big Observations from Auburn’s massive comeback win at Ole Miss, the first Quad 1 victory over the season for the Tigers. Those are joined, as always, by the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and Quote of the Night.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn fed off Johni Broome… then he fed on Ole Miss
In the first half, Broome went 0-4 from the field. He was whistled for a pair of tough fouls, including a double technical that sent him to the bench for the final 4:17 before halftime.
Ole Miss was hitting shots from everywhere, and Auburn’s defense didn’t have nearly the same effectiveness that it had for the vast majority of the season.
But Broome didn’t get rattled. He’d been here before. And while his own looks weren’t falling, he was still finding ways to help his teammates — by dishing out four first-half assists and providing a sense of calm confidence in the face of a rough start.
“Even though he didn't put up any dominating numbers in the first half and got a little bit of foul trouble, his demeanor when Ole Miss was making shots and was in position to run us out of the building and his body language, the way he was in the huddle — there was just no panic,” Pearl said. “I think the rest of the guys just fed off of that.”
In the second half, Broome looked much more like the All-SEC center who has been one of the most effective players in all of college basketball this season.