Johnny Broom and his teammates knew what awaited them in the back half of the SEC slate, so they wanted to make sure to “put on a performance” as a precursor to that grueling stretch of games ahead.
So, on Wednesday night against Georgia, Auburn did just that. The Tigers produced not only their best performance of the season, but their most efficient offensive play in years, defeating the Bulldogs 94–73 at Neville Arena.
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Replicating that kind of efficiency in their next game will be no easy task, but at least one aspect of Auburn’s offensive masterpiece against Georgia could be key for Bruce Pearl’s team when it travels to Knoxville to kick off the season. Will be the best chance to get your biggest win. , Tenn., No. 2 Tennessee and the nation’s top-rated defense to take on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Along with a season-high point against Georgia, Auburn posted a season-best 22 assists while committing a season-low five turnovers in their midweek blowout on the field. Evaluating possessions in that manner and taking care of the ball will be extremely important against a Tennessee defense that has been downright dominant this season.
“Tennessee is the best defensive team in the country,” Pearl said. “They’re — all the numbers speak for it as far as their field goal percentage defense, their 3-point percentage defense. They’re second in the nation in scoring margin, plus-18.5, across all sports. They They are very, very deep. They are very, very talented. They are well trained. They are very physical.
According to KenPom, Tennessee ranks No. 1 in the nation in defensive efficiency, limiting opponents to 85.5 points per 100 possessions adjusted for tempo. The Vols also lead the nation in 3-point defense, holding teams to a 25.5 percent clip from beyond the arc, and they also top the nation in field goal defense, with opponents shooting just 34.8 percent against them this year. Of.
They also ranked 10th in steal percentage (13.7 percent) and forced turnovers on 21.1 percent of opponents’ possessions, which ranked 17th in the nation and fourth best among high-major programs. Overall, Tennessee averaged 16.4 takeaways per game.
Pearl said, “Tennessee would go up and put pressure on all of us and make it really difficult for us to run our stuff.”
Auburn’s offense hasn’t been nearly as explosive as it was last season, when it had the luxury of Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler in its lineup, but the Tigers have been at their best this season when they’ve taken care of the ball, as That showed up on Wednesday night. The good news for Auburn is that this hasn’t largely been an aberration, especially in SEC play, where some of its supporting cast has done well to avoid turnovers.
Pearl commended both Alan Flanigan and KD Johnson for how well they have performed in that regard since the start of conference play, and that both have overall played better as of late. Flannigan is coming off his best game since an Achilles injury prior to his junior season, scoring 22 points against Georgia without committing a turnover. Johnson scored in double digits for the second straight game, finishing with 13 points while committing only one turnover.
More than just providing an extra scoring punch to complement the consistent production of Wendell Green Jr., Johnny Broome and Jaylin Williams, however, Flanigan averaged just 1.4 turnovers per game in SEC play. Seven of those came in Auburn’s win against Mississippi State, certainly an outlier, as they have averaged only 0.8 turnovers in the Tigers’ other eight SEC contests. Meanwhile, Johnson is averaging just 0.78 turnovers per game in SEC action.
“If you told me, you know, KD a little less than one in nine games at the beginning of the season, al exactly the same — that means they’re really trying to take care of the ball, right? ” Pearl said. “It means they’re really trying to make, you know, better decisions when they have gains and losses. It really means they’re trying to value both assets.” And, you know, cutting down on our turnover.
Could limit turnovers in the backcourt against Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Ziegler, especially considering how well Tennessee plays with their length and physicality in the frontcourt with the likes of Josiah-Jordan James, Julian Phillips and Olivier Nkmahoua Kind of protects.
“Their three, four and five are all huge,” Pearl said. “And so that length and that physicality. You know, watching Tennessee games, there’s a lot of contact, and a lot more than most sports. So, they usually let you play, they let them play, And they’re very physical, which — if they let you play, it can really help your defense. They run, they run, and they run a lot of the same principles that we run, where As long as they protect man from man, they are clearly better than us.
Optimizing possessions offensively will be key to Auburn’s chances on the road – and a big-time Quadrant 1 win to bolster postseason resume – so defensively the Tigers will have to return to their old ways when it comes to guarding the perimeter. Will need to go back to methods. Until recently, Auburn had the nation’s No. 2 3-point defense, but Pearl’s team has slipped somewhat over the past few games, falling to sixth nationally in that regard (27.8 percent).
Texas A&M dropped seven of its 19 attempts in its win at Neville Arena last week, and then Auburn saw West Virginia go 9-of-20 from beyond the arc — many of them hard, contested — Prior to Georgia’s 14-. of-34 from 3-point range on Wednesday. The 14 made by Georgia allowed by Auburn were a season-high.
If the Tigers can return to their past success defending the 3-point line, their chances of winning in Knoxville will increase. As good as Tennessee has been defensively, the Vols’ offense has been able to let it down from time to time, as has been the case in each of their two SEC losses. In Tennessee’s home loss to Kentucky, it went just 3-of-21 (14.3 percent) from beyond the arc. In Wednesday’s loss at Florida, Tennessee connected on just 5-of-25 (20 percent) attempts from deep.
Pearl paid close attention to the Gators—led by first-year coach Todd Golden, a former Auburn assistant under Pearl—to disrupt the Vols’ offense, but didn’t want to get his hands on what he learned. Regardless, it will be a challenge for Auburn, especially on the road against one of the top programs in the country.
However, in that challenge lies opportunity.
Pearl said, “We all agree that the back nine is three times as hard as the front nine.” “But still, the amount of hard work we put in to put ourselves in the position we put ourselves in is worth noting. This will be our second top-25 matchup of the year. After beating we had a top-25 matchup. And this time it will be on the road at a place where Tennessee beats guys by 25 points per game…. This will be the biggest task we’ve ever faced Is.”
Tom Green is the Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. follow him on twitter @Tomas_Verde.