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Jan 22, 2022; Auburn, AL, USA; Walker Kessler (13) dunks the ball between Auburn and Kentucky at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jacob Taylor/AU Athletics
Jan 22, 2022; Auburn, AL, USA; Walker Kessler (13) dunks the ball between Auburn and Kentucky at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jacob Taylor/AU Athletics

Auburn overcomes bad start to beat Kentucky 80-71 in big battle for SEC supremacy

After extending their win streak to 14 against Georgia, the Auburn Tigers (18-1, 7-0 SEC) stayed at home in Auburn Arena to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (15-3, 5-2 SEC). The night before the game, people had begun living in tents in order to secure a seat for this blockbuster matchup, creating the nickname “Jungle City”. The inhabitants of Jungle City were treated to an Auburn win thanks to a first-pick caliber performance by Jabari Smith, and dominance from Walker Kessler with 17 points. 

After an Auburn tip off win it was Kentucky that got the first basket, Auburn dunked it themselves on the other end, and after put back dunk from Kentucky, Auburn began to wake up the Jungle. The inhabitants of Jungle city where out in full force when Kentucky’s Grady took the first free throws of the game, However, the noise was not enough as the two made free throws from Kellan Grady seemed to swing momentum over to the Kentucky, as the Wildcats went on a 13-0 run to put Kentucky up 17-7 with 14 minutes to go in the first half.

Jabari Smith took it upon himself to break the run with a jumper from the charity stripe, but Auburn still had a long way to go. Rebounds had been a big problem for the Tigers, as they were only able to get five by the 11:30 mark but that would not stop Jabari Smith from showing why many call him a lock for the first overall pick with a jumper and three on back-to-back possessions. This put Auburn back in striking distance as the score read 19-16 with 10 minutes left to go in the first half.

Kentucky, who had not scored for the last three minutes, finally scored with some free throws and after the  free throws, the Wildcats jumped into a full court-press defense that hurt the Tiger’s ability to run a successful offense resulting in a Grady fast break dunk. Shortly after the dunk, Kentucky’s TyTy Washington Jr. went down with apparent leg injury causing a stoppage in play with the Wildcats leading 23-16.

Kentucky was still in the full court press when an alley-oop from Allen Flanigan to Walker Kessler brought every Auburn fan to their feet,. After some great post work from the 7'1" forward resulted some free throws that brought Auburn ever closer to the lead. The Auburn fans however showed even more love for the Tigers sparking a shot clock violation on Kentucky that led to a Jaylin Williams jumper on the other end. 

Kentucky's seemingly unbreakable full court press defense was broken by a Jabari Smith jumper, which was followed by another fan assisted shot clock violation for Kentucky. Auburn then kicked off the two-minute drill with a massive dunk from Walker Kessler. Kentucky responded with a 360 dunk from Toppin, but Kessler still was able to pump this crowd up with a dunk of his own and ended the first half with another dunk, this time an alley-oop assisted by Wendell Green Jr. Ending the first half with the Wildcats still up, but still, anyone’s game, 33-29.

Auburn started the second half with the ball, and were able to start the second half with some free throws from Allen Flanigan. 

Auburn began to show why they are a tournament team with a K.D. Johnson driving layup to tie the game, leading to a media timeout, that the Tiger fans stayed on their feet throughout. Following the timeout Kentucky retook the lead with a massive Oscar Tshiebwe dunk, putting Kentucky up 40-38.

Jabari Smith then put Auburn in the lead with massive free throws that came in three. After the lead change Kentucky seemed raddled with another Jabari Smith layup, and a haymaker in the way of a Devan Cambridge NBA Slam level jam that sparked a John Calipari timeout with Auburn up 45-40 with 13:30 to go.

Kentucky’s Davion Mintz ended Auburn's 7-0 with a jumper and another three pointer that tied the game back up. That was until Wendell Green Jr. hit two massive corner threes that put the Tigers back into the lead. Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler went down with an injury causing a stoppage in play with Auburn up 51-47 with 11:30 left to play. 

After the stoppage, Auburn came out hot with Walker Kessler’s second block of the game and Jaylin Williams getting a three-point trip to the charity stripe. Kessler declared it was Auburn’s time as he got a massive alley-oop from Wendell Green Jr. 

Both Auburn and Kentucky had six fouls to their name with eight minutes left to go, but neither team faulted in their aggression, evidenced by Jabari Smith having a big-time block in the low post. K.D. Johnson turned that into a contested fadeaway three that put Auburn in the driver’s seat, and with a foul from Kentucky’s Brooks Jr, they were also in the bonus. K.D. Johnson took the third three-point trip to the charity stripe to put the Tigers’ up 64-54 with six minutes left to go. 

A foul by Wendell Green J. put the Wildcats in the bonus as well, but Jabari Smith responded with another block that was turned into another Walker Kessler alley-oop on the other end. Kentucky was still in this fight however, and with a dunk by their own Sahvir Wheler, who had reentered the game despite being hurt earlier in the game, brought the Wildcats closer and set up a climatic ending with Auburn still up 68-60 with four minutes left to go in Auburn Arena. 

Kentucky’s Jacob Toppin seemed to suffer a knee injury that caused another stoppage in play in which the officials gave a charge call that put him on the free throw line that he missed, but still led to a Kentucky three that cut the lead to four. Jabari then hit a turn around jumper that looked first pick caliber, a shooting foul by Jacob Toppin led to him being forced to come out of the game, and Allen Flanigan hit his two free throws to start the two minute drill with Auburn up 72-64.

A Walker Kessler dunk seemed to help seal things, despite picking up his third foul soon after With one minute left, a hush fell over Auburn Arena as Wendell Green JR. shot free throws and although he only made one, it seemed to be enough as with another Kentucky turnover, Auburn began to attempt to dribble out the clock. Of course, Kentucky like the fighter and contender they are kept fighting, but at the end of the day Auburn made the people of Jungle city proud winning 80-71.

Auburn will be looking to extend their 15 game win streak on the road Tuesday January 25 in Missouri at 7:30 p.m. CST. The next time the Tigers will be home will be against a non-SEC opponent in the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday January 29th. Auburn will be looking toward the ranking in the coming weeks as it could potentially be Auburn’s first time at the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll rankings.

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