Observations: Auburn 74, Virginia Tech 57
Led by Johni Broome and Chad Baker-Mazara, the Tigers' defense had plenty of fun dominating the Hokies in front of a rabid Jungle.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
On Wednesday night, Auburn had about as much fun as a basketball team can have in a game where it shot less than 40% from the field.
In the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge, Auburn only hit 24 of its 62 (38.7%) attempts, including a rough 2-16 (12.5%) mark from 3-point range. The Tigers only hit two-thirds of their free throws, too, leaving a decent chunk of points at the line.
If you would have told anyone that Auburn would have those splits against a Virginia Tech team that entered the game with a top-60 offense nationally, they probably would have thought the Tigers were going to be on the losing end of this one. If you would have added that a usually well-balanced Auburn offense only had two scorers in double-figures, the scoreboard would’ve looked even worse in their heads.
Instead, Auburn’s offensive numbers really didn’t matter much at all. The Tigers never trailed the Hokies, and they were up by double-digits for the vast majority of a 17-point victory.
That’s because the same Auburn team that had head coach Bruce Pearl worried on the defensive end for most of the preseason pulled off one of its best performances there in years Wednesday night.
Virginia Tech went 8-31 (25.8%) on 2-point field goals, including a 6-30 (30%) mark on layups. (It was the lowest 2-point field goal percentage allowed by an Auburn team since 2014.) The Hokies averaged just .803 points per possession and turned it over on 29.6% of their trips — compared to scoring on just 36.6% of them. They hit back-to-back shot attempts just three times all game.
And Auburn turned all that defensive dominance into some easy offense, outscoring Virginia Tech 30-5 in points off turnovers.
“The kids are starting to get excited about guarding in such a way where it can frustrate the opponent, which leads to transition and some fun things in the game,” Pearl said.
Johni Broome capitalized on all that defense to offense, dropping 30 points — the most he’s had in an Auburn uniform — to go along with 13 rebounds, three blocks and a steal. Chad Baker-Mazara, despite missing some time with a minor wrist injury, added 15 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
Broome and Baker-Mazara were the perfect players to lead the way for the Tigers: An All-SEC center who dominated a VT team that couldn’t hang with Auburn’s depth, plus a high-energy transfer who had fun doing some of everything off the bench.
“The kids are, in spite of me, they’re still enjoying themselves,” Pearl said with a smirk.
And that fun continued after the final horn sounded, when Pearl decided to crash Broome and Baker-Mazara’s press conference to ask a question among the media members.
“Bruce Pearl, Auburn University,” Pearl said. “Guys, why is that when you guys seem to have the game in hand, your coach is over there going bat s—t crazy, trying to get you to play hard for every possession. Do you think he’s lost his mind, or do you think there’s something to that?”
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Broome replied with a smile. “But he loves us. He wants us to play hard. Even when we’re playing hard, to always play harder. That’s why he’s one of the best coaches in the country.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 74-57 win over Virginia Tech, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
C Johni Broome (Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn shows it can win big with its defense
After Auburn raced out to an early 11-1 lead, the game turned into more of a rock fight. Auburn only hit six of its next 22 shots, including a streak of eight misses that went from the 2:00 mark in the first half to the 15:24 mark of the second half.
And yet Virginia Tech only got to within a couple of possessions just once, going on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to six. That only lasted 22 seconds.
Auburn’s defense kept Virginia Tech at arm’s length the entire game. The Tigers frustrated the Hokies, who got 16 points from Hunter Catoor but only four from Sean Pedulla — a veteran point guard who went 0-9 from the field with seven turnovers.
“They're great guards, and we knew we had to stop them first,” Broome said. “So, leading up to this week, we were coaching on our guards heavy. … We were on the guards heavy about switching and not getting open shots. They did a great job listening to the scout. All the credit to the guards.”
If the Tigers were rusty after the eight-day break, they didn’t show it on the defensive end of the floor. They felt like they would match up quite well with what the Hokies were trying to do with their highly efficient, guard-focused offense — and then they went out there and proved it.