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Bruce Pearl during the game between the Houstan Cougars and the Auburn Tigers at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, AL on Saturday, Mar 18, 2023.
Steven Leonard/Auburn Tigers
Bruce Pearl during the game between the Houstan Cougars and the Auburn Tigers at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, AL on Saturday, Mar 18, 2023. Steven Leonard/Auburn Tigers

A Story All Too Familiar, Auburn Eliminated as Offense Sputters in Second Half

Following arguably Auburn’s best 40 consecutive minutes of offensive basketball (dating back to the second half in round one vs Iowa), the rails fell off the last 20 minutes against Houston as the Tigers were eliminated in the round of 32, 81-64.

The No. 8 seeded Auburn Tigers (21-13) took on the No. 1 seed (#2 overall team) Houston Cougars (33-3) inside Legacy Arena on March 18 in Birmingham, AL.

The Auburn Tigers came into the matchup following a great second half performance to knock off Iowa in the first round of the NCAA March Madness Tournament. The Tigers shot 55.2% from the field in the second half and erupted for 52 points.

The Houston Cougars avoided an upset from 16 seed Northern Kentucky thanks to a 10-4 run within the final 5:39 of game time.

The first half was a classic back and forth battle, with both teams throwing punches, trying to expose their will in the paint. It wasn’t until Jaylin Williams hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 27 that Auburn would hit stride. The Williams three sparked a 17-4 run over 5:32 that Auburn would carry into the break as they led the Cougars by double digits, 41-31.

The Tigers copied and pasted their percentage from the Iowa second half, shooting 55.2% again on 16-29 attempts (5-11 from 3). Jaylin Williams led the way for the Tigers at the half with 11 points on 4-10 shooting, and Johni Broome collected 8 points and 4 rebounds. Tre Donaldson continued his hot shooting, splashing 2 triples in as many attempts.

Senior guard Marcus Sasser was the leading scorer for Houston at the break with 9 points. Tramon Mark added 6 points and 5 rebounds.

“We’re twenty minutes away”, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said coming out of the halftime break.

Unfortunately for Auburn, those next 20 minutes could not have ended fast enough. The Tigers were outscored 50-23 in the second half, including a 25-9 stretch over the remaining 7:25 of game action. 

It was not only a tale of two halves for the Auburn Tigers, it was seemingly a double negative, as neither the offense nor the defense was able to execute on their respective ends of the court. 

On the offensive end, the Tigers were held to a field goal percentage of 16.7%, making only 4 of their 24 attempts. No Tiger made more than one field goal, and to make matters worse, the lid would not come off the rim for free throws either. The Tigers shot 26 free throws in the second half, only making 15 of them (57.7%). 

Defensively, the Tigers were unable to stop Houston. The Cougars shot an even 50% from the field, including 10-18 from inside the perimeter. And conversely to Auburn, Houston was perfect from the free throw line, sinking all 18 of their attempts. Both Mark and Sears had their way, combining for 33 of the Cougars 50 second half points, going a combined 11-17 from the field.

“We got great looks in the first half, and ran whatever we wanted”, coach Pearl stated in his post game comments. “We had the number one seed in this region on their heels… but we were dominated in the second half on both ends of the floor”.

So the Tigers turn their attention now to the offseason, where Bruce Pearl commented that he was going to start recruiting “tonight”. With Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan still able to return with their Covid year, the down period will be interesting to see what changes the coaches make. 

Final line for the Auburn Tigers: 21-13 (10-8 SEC), eliminated in the round of 32.

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