Through the first half of Auburn’s Wednesday night matchup in Athens, Ga., it looked like Bruce Pearl’s squad was following the same script it did when the teams met to open SEC play.
Everything seemed to click, this time on the road, for Auburn.
Freshman center Austin Wiley went to work down low, while Auburn’s guards poured in 3-pointers (6 for 12). The Tigers reserve guards subbed in and found ways to get to the basket. Auburn outmatched Georgia on the boards.
And then it happened again: Georgia’s J.J Frazier, scoreless for nearly 11 minutes, started to make senior night his night.
With an NCAA Tournament bid on the line, the Bulldogs senior guard, who had 27 points in Auburn, took control.
Frazier had scored 31 points with seconds remaining. Then, the undersized guard made the most costly error — or so it seemed. A Frazier turnover gave Auburn one last shot at a road win.
Auburn’s Jared Harper had a wide-open look at what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer. Once again, however, the Tigers fell short, falling to Georgia 79-78.
Player of the Game
Bryce Brown: 15 points (5 of 7 FG, 5 of 7 3FG), 3 rebounds
Pearl expected Brown (a Georgia native) to play well against the in-state school that didn’t recruit him.
The coach’s prediction showed Pearl’s understanding of his players.
After not playing well in the teams’ initial matchup, Brown played with an edge against the Bulldogs on Wednesday. The sophomore took smart shots, scoring 15 points in 23 minutes.
Most important, Brown was sharp from behind the 3-point line (5 of 7), hitting big shots when it counted. He also helped settle down his team in the final minutes as Auburn and Georgia traded baskets.
Stat line of the game
|10||3 of 4||2 of 2||1||2||19|
TJ Lang hadn’t scored more than 10 points in Auburn’s previous 16 games before his team’s midweek trip across state lines.
The junior stepped in and played a key role against a Georgia team scraping for a postseason bid.
Lang was nearly perfect from the floor (and was spot on from behind the 3-point line), scoring 10 points in 19 minutes. The gangly guard also played physically stronger than he had in a while (Lang dealt with minor injuries and at one point a stomach flu.).
On paper, Auburn had a depth advantage over Georgia, and Lang tried to make sure that proved true.
At the end of 40 minutes, however, it was Georgia’s reserves who were the difference (40 points to Auburn’s 20 off the bench).
Auburn missed an opportunity off an inbounds play with 1:13 remaining.
It was set up perfectly, but the timing — the same thing that was a problem for Auburn in its loss to Arkansas — was devastating.
The misstep secured Georgia’s 4-point lead and sent Frazier to the free-throw line. It was the kind of play and a shift in momentum that proved costly for the Tigers.
What’s next for Auburn basketball
Auburn secured its first SEC win on a trip to Columbia, Mo., in January. On Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, SEC Network), Pearl’s squad will attempt to end the regular season by sweeping Mizzou.
Missouri was picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason. Through 17 games, it shares the bottom of the standings with LSU.
Yet, despite a 2-14 conference record, Missouri has proven it’s still willing to fight for victories. Missouri gave Kentucky and Ole Miss scares in two of their previous three outings.
A close-knit Auburn team will celebrate its two graduate transfers on senior day and try to earn a win before heading to Nashville, Tenn., for the SEC Tournament.