Observations: Auburn 65, Saint Louis 60
Even against one of the most experienced teams in the country, Auburn's veterans showed poise under pressure and rallied for an important home win.
SF Allen Flanigan (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
It started with a defensive stop. Of course it did.
This Auburn basketball team has its fair share of issues on the offensive end of the floor. It missed eight straight shots at one point in the first half Sunday and went 2-13 from the field in another stretch of the second half.
That second drought came to an end, though, when K.D. Johnson scored a tough driving layup with 3:18 left to trim visiting Saint Louis’ lead to three points. His bucket came just seconds after a defensive rebound from center Johni Broome.
Then, after Saint Louis missed a pair of free throws on the other end, Johnson drove and scored again. What happened next will be remembered on the Plains for a while.
Broome stayed with Saint Louis star point guard Yuri Collins and managed to block his shot — one of eight during the game from the transfer center.
Johnson got the loose ball and immediately threw a pass down the floor to a streaking Allen Flanigan. It looked like a quarterback leading his wide receiver on a perfect go route. Flanigan didn’t even have to take a dribble before throwing down a thunderous dunk to give Auburn the lead.
“I got the block and when I turned to sprint the floor, I saw Flan take off down the court,” Broome said. “I know K.D., he's gonna make the play. So I saw him cock back, and he threw to Flan. He caught it. The crowd started rocking, and I knew momentum switched quickly.”
Broome’s block gave Saint Louis its third straight missed shot. It would miss its next three before Collins hit a late layup. By then, Auburn was already up by multiple possessions.
From down by five points to winning by that same margin, the Tigers had snatched one on their home floor once again.
“We just had a little more,” Bruce Pearl said.
Auburn made more plays down the stretch than Saint Louis, a Quadrant 1 opponent that will challenge for the A-10 Championship this season. The Billikens are one of the most experienced teams in the country and got even better over the offseason under veteran head coach Travis Ford. But, for the third time in four years, Auburn got a hard-fought win over a tough mid-major opponent.
Once again, the Tigers’ defense-first style isn’t going to win a lot of style points, especially in non-conference play. But it can definitely win games, and Auburn is still undefeated in what has been an upset-heavy first three weeks of college basketball.
Here are five Observations from Auburn’s 65-60 win over Saint Louis, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn leaned on its experience late, and it paid off
It was obvious early that Auburn wasn’t going to go with its usual rotation from the first six games of the season. The substitution patterns were different, and the freshman trio of Chance Westry, Yohan Traore and Tre Donaldson weren’t going to be big factors in terms of playing time. (Donaldson didn’t even see the floor Sunday.)
Auburn went back to its closing lineup of Wendell Green Jr., Johnson, Flanigan, Jaylin Williams and Broome. Together, they played the final 4:05 of regulation. Green played 17 of the available 20 minutes after halftime. Williams played all but 1:36 of the second half.
Pearl even called a timeout, which he rarely does, in order to give his veterans a breather for the final stretch. That was a suggestion from his son, assistant coach Steven Pearl.
“I called timeout with about five to go, just to give those guys some rest, because I knew I wanted to close with them,” Pearl said. “It wasn't anything strategic — in fact, Saint Louis benefited from it, too. But I didn't care. I wanted to call that timeout. And I never do that.
“But I just knew that I was not gonna sub that group out. And they closed well.”