At a place where Auburn has seen itself fall victim to opponents multiple times this season, the Tigers use the free throw line to their advantage, escaping the Rebels, 78-74.
The Auburn Tigers (19-9, 9-6 SEC) hosted the Ole Miss Rebels (10-18, 2-13 SEC) inside Neville Arena on Wednesday, February 22 at 8:00 PM CT. The Tigers came out victorious, sweeping the Rebels for the second straight year.
“We needed that one," head coach Bruce Pearl said, leading his post game press conference thoughts. “Our best players stepped up”.
And stepped up they did. Wendell Green Jr led the way for the Tigers with 23 points on 6-12 shooting. Johni Broome added 19 points, eight rebounds, and six huge blocks, five coming within the final ten minutes of game action. Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan found themselves in double figures as well with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Wendell Green Jr shoots the most free throws in the SEC, and tonight he proved why he’s such a threat when the game goes into the final few minutes. Green finished 11-12 from the stripe, including a 6-6 finish within the last 30 seconds. He was asked how it felt in a game like this to come away with a close one, knowing a few of the past games were lost in similar fashion.
“It shows that we’re learning, we ended up getting to the free throw line. Coach said we need to get to the free throw line more. [It’s an] automatic two points, so I think we improved on that tonight”, Green said. “If you’re sick of losing, you’re going to do whatever it takes to get a win”, Green later added. The Tigers finished 22-24 from the line as a team.
Johni Broome was a “stat sheet stuffer” in the words of Bruce Pearl tonight, and said, “I don’t know if there’s a newcomer award for the SEC, but it’s hard to believe there’s a better newcomer than Johni. We called his number and he delivered," Pearl continued.
“It’s my job to anchor the defense and protect the rim”, Johni Broome stated in regard to his paint presence throughout the game but specifically after Ole Miss erased an eleven point lead.
The big (and little) duo of the Auburn Tigers carried the load in this contest. Both Green and Broome spoke out on what it’s like to be able to play as teammates after being competitors for so long.
“It’s great to be here from where we started. We were battling against each other for freshman of the year two years ago, and now us being on one of the best teams in the SEC, we just want to keep going and keep trusting each other”, Wendell Green said with a smile. Johni Broome added, “We’re both competitors, we [finally] get to play with each other, we love to win and be able to make plays for each other and get a win for our team”.
Head coach Bruce Pearl acknowledges that it’s going to take a better performance on Saturday than what was shown tonight, at least in the rebounding category. The Tigers finished -10, and gave up 17 offensive rebounds to the Rebels.
“Kentucky is bigger and stronger and more athletic, if we rebound like we did tonight we’re going to get beat by 40 [in Rupp Arena].
The key takeaway once again was what Bruce Pearl started his post game press conference with, that being, “we needed this one”.
The Tigers have Kentucky on the road, Alabama on the road, and host Tennessee to finish off a gauntlet of a regular season schedule. Pearl and the Tigers knew that this win was needed, as 1-3 to finish up this season was what had to be the worst-case scenario.
“It’s hard to beat all the teams you’re supposed to beat… now it’s time to see if we can beat some of the best teams down the stretch," Pearl also added.
The Tigers take on the Kentucky Wildcats (19-9, 10-5 SEC) inside Rupp Arena on Saturday, February 25 at 3:00 PM CT on CBS. The Wildcats are 13-3 at home this season, while the Tigers are 4-6 on the road.