For Auburn, the problems began well before the opening tip against Ole Miss. The Tigers had zero experienced point guards active for the game. Sharife Cooper remains ineligible pending an NCAA investigation, Tyrell Jones left the team to transfer to South Alabama, and Justin Powell was held out after sustaining a head injury last weekend against Texas A&M.
Jaylin Williams led the squad with 16 points in the first half. No other Tiger had more than 3 in the first 20 minutes. All told, Auburn found themselves trailing at the half for the third straight game. The offense was better in the second half, but turnovers in the final minutes crippled the comeback effort. Williams finished with 24 points on shooting 50% from the floor.
Despite his valiant effort, Williams felt that he needed to do more to earn positive results for his team. “Just cut down on turnovers, rebound the ball…” he said when asked.
“I am proud of them for continuing to battle,” Coach Bruce Pearl said after the loss. Without any true point guards, only 9 scholarship players were available to play, forcing some to step out of their natural roles. Allen Flanigan was repeatedly called upon to play from the point guard position.
It was a lot of extra responsibility, and it showed. Auburn’s leading scorer turned in his second-worst showing of the season, totaling just 4 points in a grueling 35 minutes. On top of everything else, “We still need him to be the best defensive player on the floor,” Pearl said. Flanigan turned the ball over 8 times, the highest mark on the team.
Auburn now sits at 0-3 in SEC play, its worst start since the 2016-17 season. Coach Pearl pointed out that the schedule won’t be getting easier, either. In the next 10 days, the Tigers have games lined up against Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky, all key matchups that will make or break what is left of the season. Fortunately, two of those three games will be played at home.
Bruce Pearl took the three straight losses hard. For the second game in a row, Auburn outscored their opponent in the second half. Williams said the Tigers “have to do better starting the game off” to put themselves in position to win.
The Tigers return to Auburn Arena on Saturday to play arch-rival Alabama.