Observations: USC 74, Auburn 71
Bruce Pearl's Tigers showed improvement in a number of areas— but their two biggest struggles were a deadly combination on the road.
PG Tre Donaldson (Auburn Basketball/Twitter)
LOS ANGELES — The expression from Bruce Pearl said it all.
After his Auburn team lost to USC by a score of 74-71 in Los Angeles and he emerged from the postgame locker room, Pearl made the rounds inside Galen Center. He sat down for his usual radio interview with Andy Burcham, then talked to fans who had made the Tigers’ first true road game feel more like a 50/50 environment.
When he sat down for his postgame press conference, tucked in the corner of the arena, his expression hadn’t changed.
It was a look of disappointment — but more in the result, not in his players.
It was a look of frustration — but more with the factors outside of his control, not with his players.
It was a look of optimism — and that one was in his players.
“Thought we played better tonight,” Pearl began. “We gave ourselves a chance. We talked after the Georgia State game that I felt like we needed to play better to have a chance to win these games now, and I thought we did.”
Auburn, indeed, played better in a lot of areas Sunday in Los Angeles. The Tigers had an effective field goal percentage of 55.3%, which was their third-best mark all season. They had their best rebounding game in weeks, finishing +13 in that area. They had their best close to a first half all season, rallying from eight down to finish on a 14-2 run.
But in the two biggest areas where Auburn struggled the most, it struggled a ton. And those two areas — turnovers and foul trouble — were too much to overcome on the road against a potential NCAA Tournament team, even with the improvements elsewhere.
Auburn turned the ball over 23 times, by far its biggest amount of the season so far. USC only had 12 giveaways. Auburn was whistled for 25 fouls, including 19 in the second half alone, while USC only had 15. And USC was +5 in points off turnovers and +3 in free throws made in a game that was decided by a single possession.
The 3-point loss was a gut punch for Auburn, but it felt a lot different than the 9-point loss to Memphis in Atlanta eight days earlier.
The Tigers would have most likely played better if Wendell Green Jr., who only played 12 minutes while dealing with an ankle injury he suffered earlier in the week, was fully healthy. And a consistent whistle in both halves would have made a major difference, too.
As the other half of the Observer pointed out Sunday, this was a turnover-heavy road loss with a big difference in the foul situation, similar to what Auburn had around this time of year, four seasons ago, at NC State. That team had a few more bumps in the road — including a double-digit loss in its SEC opener and a three-game losing streak later that month — before catching fire and playing its best ball in March.
Auburn has a long way to go before it can even think about any postseason run. But a close road loss with clear, fixable and perhaps not easily repeatable problems doesn’t have to be met with doom and gloom.
That’s not what was in the eyes and the words of Pearl in Los Angeles on Sunday.
“Look, I'm pleased with this team right now, if we can continue to grow,” Pearl said. “We made a lot of progress since last week against Memphis.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s loss at USC, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day.