In their first true road test of the season, with an injured Wendell Green, Jr. and a strong Pac-12 opponent, No. 19 Auburn (9-2) seemed up to the challenge. Going toe-to-toe with USC (9-3), freshman Tre Donaldson led a late first-half charge and sparked a 14-2 run, giving the Tigers a 39-35 lead and momentum going into the visitor locker room.
Auburn entered the second half with a chance to take control, but the Tigers fell apart in all three phases and ultimately fell in Los Angeles 72-69.
Auburn shot 53.6% from the floor and 38.5% in the first half, but managed just 36.8% and 30% in each phase during the second half. The Tigers also turned the ball over 14 times in the final 20 minutes and 23 times overall, leading to 23 points off turnovers for the Trojans.
“I thought we played better tonight. We gave ourselves a chance,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “Obviously, turnovers killed us. Wendell Green tried to go. Just really, really couldn’t.”
Auburn was clearly missing its starting point guard in Green. In limited action due to his injury, which he appeared to re-aggravate at the start of the second half, Green went 0-of-4 from the field and managed just two points at the free throw line in 12 minutes of action. Fellow guard K.D. Johnson did not fare much better, shooting 0-5 and earning six points at the free throw line.
With two of Auburn’s top guards struggling, freshman point guard Tre Donaldson stepped up to the plate in a big way as one of Auburn’s two players in double figures and his 10 first-half points leading Auburn’s comeback from down eight. Unfortunately for Donaldson and the Tigers, his success did not carry over into the second half as the young point guard got in foul trouble and he did not make a shot from the field after halftime.
With the issues at guard offensively, Auburn also had no answer for Trojan guard Boogie Ellis. Ellis was a force and USC’s best offensive weapon with a team-leading 28 points on a very efficient 9-of-15 shooting. Ellis was one of three Trojans in double figures, attacking Auburn from beyond the arc as well as attacking the basket.
Along with guard Tre Donaldson, center Johni Broome led the Tigers with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting along with eight rebounds. Auburn dominated USC on the glass with a 32-19 advantage overall, and 22-11 on the defensive boards, but it was not enough to secure the victory.
“I’m pleased with this team, if we can continue to grow,” Pearl said. “We’ve grown from where we were last week against Memphis.”
That growth will be put to the test as Auburn will stay on the road and on the West Coast with a matchup against Washington (9-3) on Wednesday, December 21. The matchup will be televised on the Pac-12 Network at 8 p.m. CST.
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