Observations: Auburn 67, USF 59
Auburn had another rock fight with USF. But, again, the Tigers were able to come from behind with elite defense — and a duo stepping up on offense after halftime.
PG Wendell Green Jr. (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Auburn didn’t hit a shot inside the first five minutes of its Friday night game against USF. It shot well below 30% from 3-point range. Only two players scored in double figures. The Tigers had more turnovers than assists. They were also down at halftime.
Yes, every single word of that above paragraph is now true for both the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons.
“Eerily similar to last year,” Pearl said. “I knew South Florida would do a good job guarding us, and I knew they would do good preparation and scout. I thought it would be a low-scoring game, but we weren’t sharp. I’ll give them credit for it.
“We didn’t execute, we didn’t make shots and we turned the ball over too much.”
Pearl’s own opening statement would have worked last year in Tampa, when Auburn beat USF by a score of 58-52. This time, he was saying it after a 67-59 home win over those same Bulls.
There were differences, of course. Big ones. There was no Jabari Smith or Walker Kessler for the Tigers in the rematch. The two players who scored in double figures last time against USF — K.D Johnson and Zep Jasper — were both held scoreless Friday.
And last year, Wendell Green Jr. was the guard who didn’t score a single point in this matchup. Allen Flanigan was still weeks away from returning from an off-the-court Achilles injury.
But in the second meeting between the Tigers and the Bulls, Green and Flanigan combined for 38 points, with 28 of them coming in another second-half comeback. A USF team that lost a shocker to Southeast Missouri State on opening night looked a lot better than Auburn, which had its back up against the wall early.
“It’s South Florida versus Auburn,” Green said. “They don't play against Auburn more than one time a year. They come with their best shot. … Everybody is coming with their best shots, so you have to be prepared. You can’t come out like we did in the first half. You have to be ready, because we could have easily been down by 20 going into halftime.
“You have to be ready, and that’s what we are getting everyone to understand. Everyone is coming with their best shot.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s second consecutive comeback win over USF, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
Auburn is ‘not really good offensively right now’
Friday night didn’t feature the worst first half Auburn has had on offense under Pearl, but it was pretty close.
Auburn shot a ghastly 25% from the floor before halftime, going only 2-14 from deep and turning the ball over 11 times. By comparison, Auburn only had nine turnovers for the entire game against George Mason on Monday. The Tigers turned it over more often (32.4%) than they scored, notching just .618 points per possession.
“We're not really good offensively right now,” Pearl said.
To make matters worse, Auburn got out-rebounded by five before halftime to a team that lost the battle on the boards to a team ranked in the 300s in KenPom earlier in the week. USF’s offense was one of the worst in mid-major basketball last season, but it still hit 40% of its shots in the first half and had as many 3-pointers as Auburn did.
USF has consistently had a strong defense under head coach Brian Gregory, and it packed the paint and dared the Tigers to shoot the ball. The looks weren’t bad for the Tigers, but they couldn’t hit the open ones and turned the ball over way too much on the clearly easy chances.
“The first step is just knowing that they (USF) were going to come off strong and really be in the gap,” Flanigan said. “They are more of a downhill team. They sat in those gaps to stop us from getting downhill.”
In the locker room, Pearl said he told his team that he thought South Florida “was the more excited team to play.” He challenged Auburn to be more physical, and it responded by winning the paint and board battles after halftime.
Auburn went 12-17 on 2-pointers in the second half after going 4-10 in the first half. Still, the Tigers shot 27.3% from deep and 68.4% from the line — two percentages that just aren’t going to cut it against improved competition later in the season.