Jabari Smith gazed up at the ceiling while facing away from the basket. With 11:44 remaining, he was fouled after missing yet another layup. To express his frustration, Smith let out a loud yell. That was all that needed to be said to sum up a great Auburn basketball team’s final night.
Sunday’s 79-61 loss to No. 10 seed Miami in the second round of the NCAA Tournament was a crushing finale to one of Auburn’s best seasons ever. After a 19-game win streak that saw them reach the top of both polls, the Tigers (28-6) have lost five of their last 11 games.
You’re as good as your finest players
Despite winning their fourth consecutive SEC regular-season title, they were eliminated from both the conference and national tournaments in the first round. They were a No. 2 seed and made it to the Sweet 16 three years after they were a No. 5 seed and went to the Final Four.
Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, Auburn’s All-American frontcourt tandem, propelled the Tigers to the fourth and fifth spots in the SEC, respectively, in preseason polls. They won the opening round game on Friday with a combined 33 points and 24 rebounds.
Three of Smith’s sixteen attempts were successful
It was cruel irony that guard play, which had been under scrutiny all season, was once again under the microscope in the season finale, when both Smith and Kessler turned in their least typical performances of the year.
Three of Smith’s sixteen attempts were successful, and one of his eight 3-point attempts was successful. Kessler was in foul trouble early and was out of sorts when he returned in the second half. He shot 0% from the field and totaled 2 points, 2 boards, and 2 blocks.
It Was Challenging to Manage a Game Under Such Dire Conditions.
In terms of field goal percentage, Auburn shot 21 for 69 (39.6%), made 5 of 26 (37.5%) threes, and made 11 of 24 (53.3%) layups (which were particularly damaging).
As a result of Kessler’s two fouls in the opening four minutes, coach Bruce Pearl was forced to make some difficult game management calls. Then he’d turn to a small-ball lineup with Smith and Jaylin Williams after starting the game with Dylan Cardwell at the five slot.
Auburn Played Tenaciously.
While Smith had trouble putting the ball in the hoop, Williams helped out offensively (two of his ten first-half attempts). He played 10 minutes two days after getting his teeth fixed and scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
This year, Cardwell’s defence had been all over the place. For the last minutes of the first half, when Miami shot 5-for-16 and Auburn closed to within a point, he played tenaciously.
After a successful first half, Kessler opened the second half 0-for-5 from the field, which led to an 8-0 run for Miami. The result was that he stopped trying to shoot at anything. Pearl is not the type to deliberately declare a timeout when things are going poorly. The Tigers’ total inexperience made it difficult for them to reorganise on their own.