Busting Brackets

Auburn Basketball: 3 takeaways from Tigers win over Murray State

Nov 12, 2021; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers forward Jabari Smith (10) attempts a 3 point shot during the second half against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at Auburn Arena. Smith led all scorers with 23 points. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2021; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers forward Jabari Smith (10) attempts a 3 point shot during the second half against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at Auburn Arena. Smith led all scorers with 23 points. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports /

Auburn Basketball defeated a tough Murray State Racers squad Wednesday night, 71-58. The 12th ranked Tigers improve to 11-1 moving into conference play. What does this win tell us about Bruce Pearl’s squad?

With #10 Alabama barely getting past Jacksonville State and losing to Davidson in back-to-back games, Auburn Basketball might be the team to beat in one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball. Auburn has now won eight straight since dropping their 2OT thriller against UConn, with wins over Loyola Chicago, Murray State, Saint Louis, and Syracuse.

After a competitive first 25 minutes, the Tigers pulled away early in the second half. A Wendell Green Jr. half-court heave with the shot clock running down gave Auburn their largest lead of the game at 14. The Tigers would hold onto this double-digit lead for the remainder of the contest. Tough defense and rebounding proved to be the deciding factors in this one, as they held the Racers to 33% shooting while outrebounding them 48 to 33.

This was the last non-conference game for the Tigers before they head into the gauntlet that is SEC play. They will open up with undefeated #17 LSU after the holiday break on the 29th. Now let’s take a look at the three takeaways from Auburn’s victory over Murray State.

1. Allen Flanigan’s Return Bodes Trouble for SEC Opponents

Allen Flanigan suited up for his first game of the 2021-22 season Wednesday afternoon. The 6’6 junior was limited to just 12 total minutes, as he will be presumed to be on a minutes restraint for at least a few games as he continues to test out his Achilles in live game action. Flanigan showed flashes of his old self, denying Murray State’s primary scorer Tevin Brown to force a turnover in the first half and finishing a layup off a cut in the second half.

On the night he finished with 3 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist on 1-6 (0-2 3pt) shooting. I think Bruce Pearl and Auburn fans were more focused on him just being back on the court and moving well rather than his counting stats. He looked pretty fast and explosive for his first game back on the floor and will continue to readjust to the speed of live-action. The Tigers have looked like a top SEC team without him but could become elite with him in the lineup at full strength.

Last year Flanigan was arguably Auburn’s best all-around player averaging 14.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 2.9 apg on 45.5% shooting.

2. Tigers are Comfortable in Chaos

Bruce Pearl runs an organized form of chaos that relies on the players to make smart, split-second decisions on both ends. On defense, it requires an immense amount of ball pressure and communication. On offense, Pearl welcomes “heat checks” and momentum shots from his plethora of shot-making guards and wings.

Against Murray State, it was a track meet as there was no shortage of possessions from either side. Auburn struggled defensively last year dropping out of the KenPom top 100 defenses for the first time in three years, but have bounced back nicely in 2021-22. The key has been the addition of multiple transfers that fit into Pearl’s style of play.

The trio of Jabari Smith, Wendell Green Jr., and Walker Kessler has elevated the Tigers defense to a new level. Green came in with a reputation of being a pest on the perimeter and his skills have translated nicely to his new stop. If by chance the opposing guards do manage to get by Green, they are met by a 7’1 shot-blocking machine in Kessler (3.4 blocks per game). Then there is freshman sensation Jabari Smith who at 6’10 has the ability to guard any position on the floor.

All three of them showed off their abilities in this matchup against Murray State. Kessler made life miserable for Racers who managed to make it to the paint, blocking a career-high seven shots and altering another handful. Smith was all over the floor, finishing with two steals while also blocking 3 shots. Green was a problem on that end as well, coming up with two steals and a number of deflections.

3. Wendell Green Jr. is the X-factor

Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler came in with 5-star backgrounds and although he is just returning from injury, Flanigan was a household name in the SEC last year. However, Wendell Green Jr. was the wild card. The 5’11 guard was electric as a freshman at Eastern Kentucky, averaging 15.8 ppg, 5 apg, 3.4 rpg, and 1.6 spg. He has brought that same kind of spark to Auburn so far in year number two, putting up 11.6 ppg, 5 apg, 3.4 rpg, and 1.2 spg off the bench.

Green has the ability to change the trajectory of a basketball game every time he steps on the floor, and he did it again against the Racers. Murray State was finding a way to hang around early in the second half when Green came in and delivered a devastating blow.

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He retrieved a tipped pass into the backcourt with 3 seconds remaining on the shot clock, proceeded to take a few dribbles, and nail a half-court shot at the buzzer to extend the Tigers’ lead to 14. He finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists in only 19 minutes off the bench.