Observations: Auburn 91, USC 75
The Tigers played their signature brand of basketball to put away the talented Trojans with ease in a big Sunday afternoon showdown.
C Dylan Cardwell (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn was very aware of the elite talent of USC heading into a Sunday afternoon showdown at Neville Arena.
Boogie Ellis has been one of college basketball’s most prolific scorers for several years now. Isaiah Collier was the composite No. 1 prospect in the country, a 6-foot-5 point guard from Atlanta who might be one of the first players taken in next year’s NBA Draft. And, yes, the Trojans also have the most famous second-generation player on the planet at the moment in 5-star Bronny James.
Everyone knew that Ellis and Collier were going to get their points against Auburn, as they account for more than half of their offense. (James, who is ramping up activity after a scary medical episode in the preseason, only played 14 minutes Sunday.)
But that didn’t mean Auburn had to make life easy on the star-studded backcourt — especially in front of a charged-up home crowd that rivaled a major SEC game.
Ellis had 22 points, but it took him 37 minutes to get there. Collier had 13 points, but he fouled out after just 18 minutes. The duo also combined for nine turnovers and just six assists.
“For USC, obviously Boogie Ellis, he's the guy,” Bruce Pearl said. “He had his night. But for us, you just never know who it's gonna be.”
At times, the guy was Jaylin Williams, who started the game on a tear and had a dozen points before halftime. At other times, it was Aden Holloway, who hit four 3-pointers to continue his shooting resurgence. Denver Jones had his times, too, knocking down all of his free throws and both of his triples in an efficient game. The same goes for Tre Donaldson, who had seven points and five assists off the bench.
And it was also Dylan Cardwell, who had a career-high 11 points to go along with five rebounds, two assists, three steals, two blocks and one memorable staredown of the younger James.
As Pearl pointed out after Auburn’s 91-75 win over USC on Sunday afternoon, this happened with Johni Broome missing 10 shots from the field and Chad Baker-Mazara only taking three shots all game.
“The guys have to be terrifically unselfish,” Pearl said. “Johni Broome could play 30 minutes for any SEC team. He plays 20 to 22 for me right now. Dylan Cardwell belongs out there, too. It just gives us a chance to withstand foul trouble or injury, God forbid.
“And as long as the guys keep staying unselfish and playing together and keeping improving, we'll keep winning.”
USC, with its pro-level prospects who brought more than 40 NBA scouts and front office members to Auburn, tried to win a talented but disjointed offense that seemed to thrive on scoring off of 1-on-1 situations and not much else. Case in point: The Trojans finished with nine assists and 15 turnovers.
Auburn, with an 11-man rotation that makes it one of the deepest power-conference contenders in recent memory, won comfortably with an exciting and balanced style that it has drilled down over its 8-2 start to the season. Case in point: The Tigers finished with 18 assists and eight turnovers.
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 16-point win over USC, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day.
PG Tre Donaldson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn had the better point guards — plural
While the pregame hype from the national media was centered on James, thanks to his famous father, more buzz should have been on Collier. In terms of pure talent, Auburn might not face a better point guard all season long.
This made for an intense matchup for the point guard combination of Holloway and Donaldson, who are the two youngest players in Auburn’s 11-man rotation. Donaldson said after a Wednesday night win over UNC Asheville that he believed Auburn had the best pair of point guards in the country, and that it would be tested by USC.
By the end of the game, it was clear to anyone watching that Collier was an incredibly gifted player. But Auburn won the point guard matchup by a country mile.
Holloway and Donaldson combined for 22 points, 11 assists and just one turnover. (Reminder: Collier had more turnovers than assists.)
Over the last three games, the duo has combined for 78 points, 25 assists and just two turnovers. Auburn has had a combined 211 offensive possessions over the last three games. Only two of them — 0.95% — have ended with turnovers from their point guards.
Again, this is a freshman and a sophomore doing this.