Observations: Auburn 81, Vanderbilt 54
Before heading back on the road to start a difficult stretch, the Tigers hit the reset at home with a much-needed blowout victory.
SG Denver Jones (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Bruce Pearl sees what’s coming.
He sees the stretch of Quad 1 games. He sees the minefield that is conference basketball. He sees the results like Kentucky losing to Florida, Georgia playing well in an upset bid against Alabama and Tennessee falling at the hands of South Carolina.
In fact, he mentioned all three of those midweek SEC games before even talking about his own Wednesday night.
“It gets for real coming up Saturday,” Pearl began, pointing to an Ole Miss team that might have lost by 23 to Auburn — but has won three straight, including a home shootout over a Mississippi State squad that just beat the Tigers, heading into the upcoming rematch in Oxford.
Auburn didn’t have that challenge ahead of it Wednesday night. Back at home, sweet home, Pearl’s squad faced a Vanderbilt team that is still desperately searching for its first SEC win.
Wednesday night was about taking care of business before moving on to the major challenges that are up next.
And the Tigers did that, pounding the Commodores by 27 in a game that featured ultra-dominant defense throughout and a rejuvenated offense after a shakier start.
“The last two games, we ain't shot it well,” shooting guard Denver Jones said, referring to Auburn’s back-to-back road losses at Alabama and Mississippi State. “So coming home in The Jungle, shooting it well in front of our fans, it was very fun.”
Jones got that going by hitting three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game. He scored a season-high 19 points, but he didn’t even have the team-high. That belonged to Jaylin Williams, who had a perfect second half to get to 21 points and shake off a pair of colder performances from the field.
And the best line of the game belonged to Johni Broome, who finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. (Chad Baker-Mazara had his own stat sheet-stuffing performance off the bench, going 11-5-4 with zero turnovers.)
Broome was the cornerstone to the biggest single stat of all for the Tigers: Vanderbilt shot just 26.8% from the field, the lowest for an SEC opponent in a single game since Auburn beat Georgia in 2012.
“We did what we needed to do tonight,” Pearl said.
Here are five Observations from Auburn’s 81-54 blowout win over Vanderbilt, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and Quote of the Night.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Defense is what’s going to carry Auburn
Yes, Vanderbilt is an inefficient offensive team. The Commodores entered the game Wednesday night at No. 327 nationally in effective field goal percentage. They had already been held to fewer than 60 points three times this season.
But Auburn has a truly elite defense, ranking at No. 3 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and raw effective field goal percentage.
The immovable force dominated the stoppable object, with the Tigers holding the Commodores to just .794 points per possession. Vanderbilt posted what was by far its season lows in both single-game offensive rating (74.9) and effective field goal percentage (30.4%).
When Auburn’s offense is clicking, it can bury opponents. But the more stable side of the floor this season has been its defense, and that carries more weight in a title hunt.
“We take pride in our defense,” Broome said. “Offense going to come. We've got a lot of scorers on our team. … Somebody's going to carry us over the time to let our offense start flowing. But defense wins championships.”