If anyone wanted to sell a time machine, Auburn men’s basketball fans are probably interested in the price.
A week ago, life was so much simpler for the No. 16 Tigers, as they carved their way to an undefeated start, at 15-0. Sitting atop the SEC and ranked fourth in last week’s Associated Press poll, this year’s team was rapidly approaching the school record of a 19-0 start.
The Tigers had a tough couple of games ahead of them, going on the road to play Alabama and Florida. They remained confident in their ability to win, but also recognized the inevitability of losing a basketball game.
Many analysts had the Tigers playing close games, but ultimately coming off of their road stretch no worse for the wear. What nobody saw coming was what happened next.
The Tigers dropped both games by a combined margin of 41 points. Between an utter lack of offense and two back-to-back losses, players and fans were left reeling and asking what happened.
Last Wednesday, Auburn traveled to the Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa to take on the Crimson Tide. Alabama was 10-5 and 1-2 in conference play. Up to this point, their only home loss had come at the hands of Florida in a double-overtime shoot out that ended 104-98.
Alabama possessed a high-powered offense that hasn’t been held under 60 points all season. In order for the Tigers to keep their streak going, they had to contain the Tide and finish plays at the basket. Some things are easier said than done and the Tigers took their first loss of the season, 83-64.
From the start of the game Auburn looked out of sorts. Samir doughty kicked things off with a missed layup and both teams followed suit. Alabama was able to open with a 5-0 run before Auburn could get on track.
Halfway through the first half Austin Wiley drained five free-throws and put the Tigers in striking distance, 11-13. The Tide went on an eight-point-run punctuated by a deep three-pointer from Alex Reese. The rest of the game was a back-and-forth affair.
The Tigers would make a layup and the Tide would drain a three, but both teams landed themselves in foul trouble early. Auburn ended the game shooting 32 percent from the field going 20-63, while Alabama shot 43 percent making 24 of their 54 shots. Both teams struggled from beyond the arc with neither hitting more than 30 percent.
The game was ultimately decided at the free-throw line. Each team had over 30 free throw attempts — the difference was Alabama refused to miss them. Auburn shot 57 percent from the free-throw line, securing 17 points on 30 shots. However, The Crimson Tide shot 78 percent at the line and scored 29 of their 83 points without ever having to worry about an Auburn defender.
One-loss Auburn didn’t have much time to reflect on its first loss of the season. The Tigers had three days to gear up and travel to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida There to take on a 3-point prone Gators’ offense.
The Auburn Tigers were in the building, but the team didn’t show up on the court. Auburn lost to Florida 47-69. This is the lowest that Auburn’s high-flying offense has scored in the past four seasons.
The game was all Florida form start to finish. The Gators opened up with a 9-0 run and kept the Tigers trailing throughout. Auburn kept things close at halftime, 25-28, thanks to an all-around improvement at the free-throw line.
The second half began and so did Florida’s high-powered offense. The Gators rained down threes, shooting 47 percent beyond the arc and producing 24 points. This pace proved to be too much for the Tigers, who again were suffering through a dirt-poor shooting performance. The Tigers finished the game shooting 25 percent from the field and 17 percent from beyond the arc. These were both season lows for the program.
Auburn shot 71 percent from the free-throw line, which is a marked improvement from its previous game. However, the Tigers’ 15 points from the line proved to not be enough. Florida closed the game with a 23-12 run over the final 10 minutes.
With a one-off loss to Alabama turning into a two-game skid, the Tigers will have some serious reevaluation to do before holding court at Auburn Arena against Big 12 opponent Iowa State on Saturday. In order for the Tiger’s to overcome and succeed with their new offensive plan, they have to make adjustments.
The number one priority for Auburn should be keeping their bigs, Wiley and Anfernee McLemore, out of foul trouble. If those two can make it the whole game, the Tigers will win the rebounding battle and have people under the basket ready to make high-percentage shots.
The free throw woes that plagued the Tigers against Alabama appear to have left in time for their match-up with Florida. Their inefficiency shooting the ball could continue to be a season-long problem if this team allows it to get under their skin.
The bottom line is that the Tigers have opted for a more fluid offense this season that sees many different people taking shots. For this plan to work nobody can get gun shy. After two road losses, the pivotal moment for this Tigers team will be how they bounce back at home.
Just how much can change in a week? Well, a week in Auburn sports can see a team rise to the top or fall from grace.
William Finney is an Auburn University student who is interning with The Villager.