SEC basketball report:

Auburn's run filled with magic

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Auburn forward Isaac Okoro (23) celebrates with fans after their overtime win over LSU in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)
Auburn forward Isaac Okoro (23) celebrates with fans after their overtime win over LSU in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Auburn's ability to stick to its plan and rally, even in tough road games, has helped the Tigers pull into a three-way tie atop the SEC with eight conference games remaining.

The Tigers have rallied from deficits of at least 11 points in three of their past four games during their six-game winning streak.

Coach Bruce Pearl's club edged past LSU 91-90 in overtime Saturday to forge a tie with LSU and Kentucky at 8-2 atop the SEC.

Auburn rallied from a 16-point deficit against LSU at Auburn Arena but nearly blew a seven-point lead in the extra period before guard J'Von McCormick's floater from about 10 feet bounced off the rim and backboard and settled through the nets in the final second.

Auburn improved to 4-0 in overtime games.

"If you're going to win a game like that, against a team like that, you have to have special," Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. "We had a lot of special."

Auburn won its lone contest against LSU, but both teams have games remaining against Kentucky the rest of the way. Auburn and LSU appear to have easier schedules down the stretch, as Kentucky also plays Florida twice in its final eight games.

Auburn overcame a 19-point second half deficit to down Ole Miss 83-82 in double overtime in Oxford, Miss., on Jan. 28. One week later, the Tigers trailed Arkansas by 11 points with six minutes to play before rallying for a 79-76 win in overtime.

Pearl suggested his deep roster helps the Tigers hold up in late-game situations and overtimes.

"We play nine guys on a regular basis," Pearl said. "We've been able to wear people out."

Bracket preview

CBS Sports released last weekend its top 16 seeds for the NCAA Tournament based on a 10-person committee's research, and Auburn as a 4 seed, was the only SEC team to make the preview.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari had a sarcastic response after Saturday's win at Tennessee on whether he had seen the top 16 bracket reveal.

"We were a two seed? We weren't?" Calipari said. "Wow, that surprises me. Were we an eight seed? We in the tournament yet? We're not in the tournament?"

CBS Sports' Jerry Palm included four SEC teams in his latest bracket projection: 3 seed Auburn, 5 seed Kentucky, 7 seed LSU and 10 seed Arkansas, with both Florida and Mississippi State listed among his first four teams left out.

USA Today listed five SEC teams: 3 seed Auburn, 5 seeds Kentucky and LSU, 10 seed Arkansas and 11 seed Florida, with Mississippi State among its first four teams left out.

Big rivalries

Two of the league's top in-state rivalries will be played this week with the basketball versions of the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl.

First up is Mississippi State at Ole Miss tonight at 6 on ESPNU. The Rebels have won two in a row and playing much better since an 0-5 start to league play. Mississippi State started 0-3, but the Bulldogs have won five of their last six SEC games with one of the league's most experienced rosters.

Can't drive 55

Auburn guard J'Von McCormick had his No. 5 jersey torn midway through the second half at Arkansas and put on 55 to finish the game. After McCormick scored 10 of his 16 points against the Razorbacks in the second jersey, Coach Bruce Pearl said he'd like to see McCormick stay in No. 55.

It didn't happen. Back in his old No. 5 on Saturday, McCormick put Pearl's fears to rest by scoring 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting, including 5 of 10 from three-point range, in Auburn's 91-90 overtime victory against LSU to create a three-way tie atop the SEC. McCormick also had nine points and nine rebounds.

Tyree climbs

Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree, who climbed to No. 9 on the school's all-time scoring chart last week, was chosen as SEC player of the week by the league office Monday.

Tyree, who scored 23 points in a 68-51 victory over Florida on Saturday, now has 1,606 points, passing Joe Gibbons (1,601) on the Rebels' scoring list.

A 6-2 senior from Somerset, N.J., Tyree averaged 30.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist in victories over South Carolina and Florida, including a career-high 38 points against the Gamecocks. He hit 52.5% of his shots in the two games, including 63.6% (7 of 11) from three-point range.

South Carolina's Jermain Couisnard, a 6-4 guard from East Chicago, Ind., averaged 23.5 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds, including a career-high 28 points against Ole Miss, to earn SEC freshman of the week honors.

Sweeps and splits

Only five two-game series in the SEC have been completed, and four of those wound up with sweeps. The only two-game set that was split came with Florida whipping Ole Miss 71-55 at home and losing 68-51 at Ole Miss on Saturday.

The Rebels have already been swept by LSU, which has a 6-0 mark against teams it will meet twice.

On the other hand is Vanderbilt, which is 0-5 against Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee, the teams it will face twice.

The other sweeps: Kentucky over Georgia, South Carolina over Texas A&M and Texas A&M over Missouri.

Road wins

One of the keys to winning the SEC regular season -- notching conference road victories -- has trended in favor of the teams currently near the top of the standings.

SEC tri-leaders Auburn, Kentucky and LSU are all 3-2 in league road games. Texas A&M, the only team to play six SEC road games thus far, is 3-3 away from College Station, Texas.

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee are all 2-3 in league road games.

Georgia, Missouri and Vanderbilt, all 0-5, are the only conference teams yet to win on the road. Ole Miss (1-4) and Mississippi State (1-3), the only team with five road games left, have one SEC victory away from home.

Bye, monkey

Vanderbilt snapped its 26-game regular season SEC losing streak with an exclamation point by outplaying LSU 99-90 last Wednesday. The Tigers, the last unbeaten team in league play, had won 10 games in a row, including six by four points or less, before tripping in Nashville.

"It's been a long time," Vanderbilt guard Saben Lee said after his 33-point game helped trigger the upset.

Vanderbilt Coach Jerry Stackhouse, who inherited a 20-game SEC losing streak from Bryce Drew, saw top players Clevon Brown and Aaron Nesmith go down with injuries earlier in the year, but his team never stopped preparing to win.

"Our morale ain't been bad," Stackhouse said. "You see our guys? Our guys don't hang their head. They come to work every day. They come to work and bring the same hard-hat mentality that they played with tonight. We told them if they continue to do that things will turn.

"I feel like if we continue to play and do the things that we do we can have more nights like this. This is not the end-all for us. This is not what we want to accomplish, to win one game in the SEC. Glad that we did. Now we got that monkey off our back and now y'all can write something else. But now we start talking about building the team that we're trying to build."

Overtime blues

The University of Arkansas is 1-3 in overtime games this season, and the Razorbacks appear to be fatigued when they get into the extra session if shooting percentage is any indication.

The Razorbacks entered Saturday's overtime loss at Missouri shooting 5 of 18 (27.8) in overtime periods. In Arkansas' lone overtime victory, 62-61 at Georgia Tech, the Razorbacks did not score in the extra period until Mason Jones banked in a three-point try at the buzzer.

Arkansas shot better in Saturday's overtime, making 5 of 11 shots (45.5) in its 82-78 loss at Missouri. But that only raised the Razorbacks' overall shooting in four overtime games to 10 of 29 (34.5).

Blowout or bust

All of Ole Miss' SEC victories have come by 10 or more points, including back-to-back spankings of South Carolina and Florida last week.

The Rebels beat South Carolina 84-70 on Wednesday, then smacked the Gators 68-51 on Saturday. The 51 points allowed was the lowest for the Rebels in an SEC game since they won 67-47 at Missouri on Jan. 31, 2015.

Ole Miss snapped its 0-5 start in league play with a 70-60 victory at Georgia on Jan. 25.

The Rebels have won back-to-back games for the first time since they followed an 83-76 victory over Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 21 with an 80-63 victory over Tennessee Tech on Dec. 29.

Twin 30s

Vanderbilt found an oasis last week in a sea of anguish since the loss of the SEC's leading scorer Aaron Nesmith early in league play.

The Commodores' Saben Lee (33) and Maxwell Evans (31) both scored 30-plus points against LSU last week. They became the first teammates in the SEC to have 30 or more points in the same game since Kentucky's Patrick Patterson (33) and Jodie Meeks (32) did it against Tennessee State on Dec. 22, 2008.

Eagle eye

Kentucky guard Emmanuel Quickley is ranked fifth in the nation with a 92% rate (104 of 113) from the free-throw line. Quickley drove and drew contact repeatedly down the stretch in the Wildcats' 77-64 victory at Tennessee on Saturday. Quickley went 6 of 7 at the line.

Quickley and Missouri's Dru Smith, who is 87 of 96 (90.6%) are the SEC's two representatives among 14 qualifying players who are making 90% of their free throws shots in Division I.

Quickley's sharpshooting at the line has helped Kentucky to an SEC-best 78.7% team accuracy mark from the line. Four SEC teams are shooting 75% or better, with Missouri (77.4%), LSU (76.9%) and Tennessee (75.1%) joining the Wildcats.

Foul five

The Texas A&M starting quintet of Savion Flagg, Andre Gordon, Emanuel Miller, Wendell Mitchell and Josh Nebo had a rough shooting performance in Saturday's 74-54 loss at South Carolina.

The five combined to shoot 6 of 29 (20.7%) from the field, with Miller (0 for 5) and Flagg (0 for 4) combining to scrape up 3 points in 44 combined minutes.

Sports on 02/11/2020


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