SAN DIEGO — Auburn basketball won an even but ugly NCAA Tournament game Friday against the College of Charleston. On Sunday, Auburn was the only one supplying the ugly.
No. 4 seed Auburn’s storybook season came to a rough end in San Diego on Sunday with a 84-53 loss to No. 5 seed Clemson. The game was well decided in the first half, as Auburn missed its last 18 shots from the field and went nearly 8 minutes without scoring. On the other end, Clemson scored efficiently and rather easily.
Auburn entered the break down by 24 points, and it lost the second half by double-digits. Still, the worst half of the season for Auburn — an all-too-common refrain following Anfernee McLemore’s February injury — was a bitter end to what was a historic season.
Here are the box scores and three key takeaways from Auburn basketball’s NCAA Tournament exit:
Frustrated and disjointed
Auburn seemed to find its offensive stroke in the first few minutes of the game, hitting a trio of 3-pointers before the under-12 timeout. After that, Clemson’s strong half-court defense adjusted, and Auburn couldn’t find any space.
The Tigers had a lot of dribbling and passing around the perimeter, but the movement wasn’t going anywhere. Clemson blocked 4 Auburn shots and scored 10 fast-break points before halftime. Basically, Auburn watched its slower-paced opponent do exactly what it wanted to do heading into the contest.
Auburn only found consistent offense in the final 10 minutes, when the game was wide-open and Clemson wasn’t being as dedicated to its half-court defense. Still, shooting less than 40 percent in a half used to be a rarity for Auburn. It happened way too much down the stretch.
Way too easy on defense
Clemson wasn’t an elite offensive team in the regular season, but it had a similar build to Auburn — multiple double-digit scorers and threats from all over the floor. And as excellent as Auburn’s defense was against the College of Charleston, it looked just as bad against a major step up in competition.
Miscommunications and, sometimes, a total lack of effort led to easy baskets in transition. Auburn didn’t put up much of a fight on the interior. While Clemson made everything difficult in the paint for Auburn, it scored almost everything inside the arc early.
That didn’t change much after the break. Clemson ripped off a trio of 3-pointers in the first 3 minutes in the second half. Auburn found some of its offensive flow again, but the defense never caught up.
Lot of success, lot of room for improvement
Auburn didn’t look like a top-4 seed at the NCAA Tournament over the last month of the season. The McLemore injury did a lot of damage to a team that didn’t have a lot of front-court size or depth. Remember, two of Auburn’s three tallest players were ineligible this season.
The Tigers overachieved for a while. Next season, Auburn could have everyone back, including Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy. Samir Doughty joins the fold, too. Everyone will be a year older, and it’ll be motivated by the sloppy finish to a championship-winning season.
This Auburn team isn’t a finished product by any means. Auburn got its foot back in the door of winning basketball this season. It has the potential to get all the way into that space, even with an ugly final impression in this wild NCAA Tournament.