I don't think Auburn was ready for a test this early in the season. With Auburn's first game of the season comes a lot too unpack.
The Paladins are a unique team. They seemed to use at least 20 seconds on every shot clock, played a zone defense which gave the Tigers trouble and had the athletes to keep up with the Tigers. They don't have anyone on the roster who plays the traditional center position. Clay Mounce, Jaylon Pugh and Noah Gurley stood out tonight against the Tigers.
The Tigers free throw troubles nagged them throughout the entire game, shooting only 60% on the night. Even for a team that doesn't shoot great from the line, this was a really bad performance.
Okoro lead the Tigers in scoring in the first half with nine points. Nine points. Mccormick, Doughty and Purifoy were a combined 2-12 from the field in the first half. That's right, 2-12 from the field. The trio only scored 6 points the first half. The Tigers are averaging 85 points a game so far and could only put up 31 in the first half. The Tigers would get close to this mark, but would need overtime to do so. Doughty would continue to struggle as he didn't hit a three-pointer all night and McCormick didn't have his best game either. Auburn should be thankful for Austin Wiley and Okoro who carried the Tigers offensively.
The second half did not get better for the Tigers right away. Auburn only scored 4 points in the first five minutes of the half. The Paladins took advantage of the offensive collapse to take a 46-35 lead.
Despite the deficit, Auburn didn't give up. They began to outplay and out-hustle the Paladins. Soon the 11 point lead became a two point lead with 7:24 to go in the game. The Tigers were able to fight their way back into the game despite only hitting 3 three-pointers by that point in the game.
A J'Von McCormick layup with 1:05 left in the game evened up the score 64-64. The Paladins would score with 30 seconds left. McCormick would tie it up with 30 seconds left. A travel by Mike Bothwell would give the Tigers the ball with 5 seconds left. McCormick would get a chance to win it at the buzzer, but the ball would just roll of the rim to send the game into overtime.
The biggest play in overtime came with 3:15 left in overtime when Noah Gurley, a forward for the Paladins, fouled out. Gurley had 21 points and 8 assists on the night and was their leading scorer on the night.
Overtime carried the same tension the end of regulation had. With a minute left the Tigers were up 75-73, but Clay Mounce's fifth foul put Austin Wiley on the line and his butt on the bench. Wiley would make both free-throws to give Auburn a four point lead. The dagger wouldn't come until fifteen seconds left in overtime, when Doughty would hit a layup to give the Tigers a four point lead again. Auburn would escape with the win, despite being down big in the second half.
This game felt like a tournament game. The offenses were streaky, lots of turnovers and every play carried a swing in momentum. Like any great tournament game, the underdog gave the favorite a run for their money.
With the energy in the crowd, you would've thought Auburn was playing Kentucky. The referees apparently missed every call and Bruce Pearl had worked up a nice sweat by the end of the game. Pearl even got so fired up this game he got a technical foul yelling at a referee.
"We never got in a rhythm offensively. I think the nine-day layoff had to do to that," said Bruce Pearl. "We got to do a better job passing the ball." Pearl mentioned how he thinks Auburn needs to do a better job getting the ball to Wiley, who was 4-5 from the field.