Bruce Pearl expected a track meet against Georgia, but his team could never really find its footing.
Auburn dropped its second game in a row, failing to get back on track after Saturday’s nonconference loss to Baylor as it lost to Georgia, 91-86, on Tuesday night at Auburn Arena. The Tigers never led against the Bulldogs and could never really get closer than within two possessions of Georgia for much of the night thanks to a slow start offensively in the first half and an interior defense that never showed up.
Here are AL.com’s key takeaways from Tuesday’s loss:
Offense disappointed in first half but settled in second half
Auburn’s offense looked, at times, uninspired in the first half as the team struggled to find a rhythm on that end of the court. The Tigers shot just 38.5 percent from the floor in the first half, including a 1-of-7 clip from 3-point range. Auburn made an effort early on to try to feed its players underneath the basket, but those attempts yielded few positive results.
It resulted in just 30 first-half points and a nine-point deficit going into halftime of a game that Bruce Pearl anticipated being a track meet. Auburn’s coach got more of what he expected in the second half, though, as Auburn’s offense began to settle and find a rhythm to open the half. The Tigers made their first six shots after halftime and started the half 9-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Despite that hot start after halftime, Auburn cut its halftime deficit to just five points in that span.
Auburn couldn’t keep up that blistering second-half pace, though, missing five of its next six shots before a Jamal Johnson corner 3-pointer ended that drought midway through the second half. By then, Georgia’s lead was still a dozen points, and it grew to as large as 15 points in the second half.
Auburn finished the second half shooting 55.9 percent, but it could never really cut into Georgia’s lead after those first few post-halftime minutes. The closest the Tigers got was within three points with 16:42 to play, but the Bulldogs kept a comfortable distance for much of the night, with their lead floating between six and 15 points for most of the second half. That was largely because…
Interior defense was an issue throughout
Auburn blocked 14 shots the last time it played Georgia. It was a completely different tune on Wednesday night, as the Bulldogs seemingly got whatever they wanted around the basket against Auburn this time out.
Auburn’s interior defense struggled, to say the least, with the Tigers giving up 52 points in the paint against the Bulldogs. Georgia shot nearly 60 percent (26-of-44) on layups and dunks, with 65 percent of the team’s shot attempts coming within a couple feet of the basket.
The 52 points matched a season high for points allowed in the paint by Auburn, which previously allowed that many against top-ranked Gonzaga during the opening weekend of the season. It was the most paint points by the Bulldogs since putting up 60 against Jacksonville — currently rated No. 302 by KenPom — back in December.
Another strong performance for Jaylin Williams
Jaylin Williams quietly put together a second consecutive impressive performance for Auburn and was the Tigers’ leading scorer for the night. He finished with 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, adding five rebounds and three blocks in 32 minutes, coming within three points of matching his career high in scoring. That performance came on the heels of his 17-point, eight rebound effort against No. 2 Baylor last weekend.
AL.com will update this post.
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.