The Stretch 4: After beating Arkansas, Auburn needs to take that show on the road
The Tigers got a big win Saturday night, but they've lost three of their last four away from home. So... can they flip the switch at Ole Miss?
(Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn basketball looked more like its old self Saturday night. A sellout Neville Arena was rocking, as the student section was back at full volume, and the Tigers maintained the third-longest home winning streak in college basketball with a statement 72-59 win over a very talented Arkansas team.
Less than 48 hours later, Bruce Pearl sat down in a press conference room on the second floor of the Arena and knew he couldn’t get too comfortable there.
“Four of our next six are on the road, so obviously you can see what kind of mood I’m in this morning,” Pearl said Monday.
The next three weeks won’t feature an opponent that is currently in the top 25 like Auburn, which has now been ranked 28 straight weeks — two shy of the program record. But only two of those games will come in front of the Tigers’ fearsome home-court environment.
It’s hard to win on the road in college basketball, as an upset-heavy start to conference play across the country has showed. And Auburn has won just one of its last four games away from home, a second-half blitzkrieg of Washington in Seattle. The other three were its only three losses of the season — Memphis in Atlanta, USC in Los Angeles and Georgia in Athens.
The road warrior stretch for Auburn starts Tuesday night in Oxford against Ole Miss. The Rebels are one of just three teams who play the Tigers twice a season, with the other two being traditional rivals Alabama and Georgia.
Over the last four seasons, Pearl and Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis have gone back and forth with sweeps. (Pearl and Davis also crossed paths multiple times when Davis was the head coach at Middle Tennessee.) Auburn won both matchups last season, rallying from a first-half deficit to win by nine in Oxford and cruising to a 13-point win at home later in the season.
Ole Miss went 0-2 last week with losses at Alabama and Mississippi State, but it led for most of its SEC home opener against Tennessee two weeks ago. In Pearl’s words, you can’t judge the Rebels’ recent performances too harshly, thanks to that schedule.
And, besides, Auburn is less than a week removed from a 12-point loss at Georgia, which isn’t expected to be a better team than Ole Miss this season. But as quickly as the Tigers moved past that disappointing defeat in Athens, they’ve moved past the reinvigorating win over Arkansas back at home.
“It’s, like, in our past,” forward Jaylin Williams said. “We enjoyed it. Try to go past it and just get ready for Ole Miss. They have a lot of good offensive plays, so we’re just trying to get prepared for them. Keep moving on. Just win as much as we can.”
Pearl knows what’s he’s going to get out of a Davis-coached Ole Miss team, no matter the record — a diet of pressing zone defenses and a lot of creative ways to get the ball in the hands of experienced scorers such as Matthew Murrell (14.7 PPG) and Jaemyn Brakefield (8.9 PPG).
There’s also 5-foot-9 point guard Daeshun Ruffin, a Class of 2021 player who was committed to Auburn for a short time before he decided to stay home in Mississippi.
“You’d love to have about a month to prepare for Kermit Davis, instead of a day and a half,” Pearl said. “They’re so well-coached and so well-drilled. I might have to postpone the plane to get ready for him today. It just takes that long. They do so many things. They do so many things well. … It’s just a hard prep, because they’re so versatile. They do so many different things offensively that are well thought-out.”
Auburn will hope that it can keep its momentum rolling, even with the quick turnaround. Road wins in the SEC are precious, and how the Tigers handle this run of them in short order could go a long way in defining their season.
For more on Auburn heading into the matchup at The Pavilion on Tuesday night, here’s a deeper dive into two trends and two specific players to watch in this week’s Stretch 4.