Since A&M joined the SEC in 2012, the basketball series between the Auburn Tigers and Aggies has had the hallmarks of a burgeoning rivalry, albeit a lopsided one. If Bruce Pearl’s Tigers needed any additional motivation after the Ags handed them an embarrassing 16-point home lost just two weeks ago, his program’s 4-11 record against A&M in the past 10 years looked to be more than enough. However, the chip on the Tigers’ collective shoulder wasn’t quite big enough to overcome the A&M’s relentless attack as the Aggies triumphed at home, 83-78.
The opening 10 minutes were punctuated by intense defensive pressure and sloppy offensive play from both teams. Auburn was hitting from beyond the arc but struggling on the interior, while A&M kept pace in the paint and at the free throw line. However, the Tigers exploded on a 14-1 run to open up a 27-15 lead with just under six and a half minutes remaining until the break. Auburn looked to be in complete control, forcing the ball out of Boots Radford’s hands and keeping the Aggie offense on the perimeter, and the home crowed that had been boisterous to start the game lost a bit of its venom. But the mirage of momentum melted away when the Tigers’ chief instigators, Wendell Green and KD Johnson, took their antics a step too far in a loose ball skirmish with Solomon Washington at the 5:24 mark of the first half. The Aggie faithful roared to life, and Buzz Williams’s troops responded in kind, going on a 12-2 run over the final four minutes to take a 37-36 advantage into the break.
Auburn took control of the game coming out of the intermission as Tiger big man Johni Broome began to assert himself. The Auburn lead grew to as many as 8 points before the Aggies started to attack the paint and claw their way to the free throw line. After Julius Marble picked up two quick fouls to start the half, an unexpected catalyst emerged to lead the charge in the form of Andersson Garcia. Garcia has been playing exceptionally well in the last 3 weeks, cementing his place in Buzz’s rotation. Garcia and Washington formed a dynamic duo inside that confounded the Tigers and forced Broome to pick up three fouls in a five minute span, sending the Auburn big man to the bench. When Julius Marble came back on the floor with nine minutes remaining, he took over the game and scored 13 points down the stretch. When Broome returned to the game with five minutes left, the Aggies did what they failed to do at Kentucky and exploited an opposing big in foul trouble by isolating Marble in the post against Broome. When the Aggies took the lead with three minutes remaining, I felt a calmness in that moment knowing that the game was over. A&M closed out the game from the free throw line and secured their dominance in sweeping Auburn this season.
Wade Taylor and Julius Marble were the leading scorers for A&M, picking up 22 and 20 points, respectively. Taylor added 7 assists and 2 steals while shooting 4-for-10 from beyond the arc, while Marble grabbed 7 boards. Boots chipped in 10 points, 4 boards, and a pair of steals despite being heavily shadowed by Auburn after his 30-point explosion in their gym two weeks ago. Garcia added 11 points and 6 rebounds in his 21 minutes, and Washington scored 6 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots in just nine minutes.
A&M shot 42% from the floor and 33% from deep, but they were bolstered by a 31-for-39 night from the free throw line (39 attempts!!). Auburn was better from the field than the Aggies, shooting 46.9% from the field and 37.5% from behind the arc. The Aggies won the battle on the boards, 38 to 34, but the Tigers’ active hands on defense created 12 A&M turnovers to Auburn’s 10.
The win moves the Aggies to 17-7 on the year with a 9-2 mark in the SEC, tied for second in the conference. I don’t believe in looking at expert bracketology predictions at this stage because there’s too many games left to play, but for those interested, Joe Lundardi had Auburn as an 8 seed before the game and placed the Aggies as the first team out of the tournament BEFORE yesterday’s game. I would almost certainly expect that this victory will give the Aggies some traction to move up in Lunardi’s projections, but A&M’s sole focus should be on beating LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday. The Ags have lost their last five games at the Maravich Assembly Center by an average of 13 points. The Bayou Bengals have struggled horribly in conference play, sitting at 1-9 in the SEC and tied for last with South Carolina. A&M’s best game plan should be to bury LSU early and take the crowd out of the game, much like they did against the Gamecocks. The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night and will be televised on SEC Network.