AUBURN — When Bruce Pearl challenged his team with another “must-win” situation, the Tigers responded, securing their 19th win of the season.
No win in the SEC comes easily, and while it was not always pretty, Auburn took down Ole Miss 78-74, clinching the season sweep of the Rebels.
“We needed that one,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “Our best players stepped up and that was great to see. You win games at the end by getting stops and getting to the foul line. Wendell was terrific closing it out.”
The Tigers responded following a tough loss to Vanderbilt, and perhaps more importantly, Wendell Green Jr. responded.
Green struggled heavily with the size of Vanderbilt, scoring just five points on 2-of-14 shooting from the floor.
Faced with a strong second-half comeback from Rebels, who went on a 26-10 run to tighten a game that seemed to be nearing blowout terrors, Green was beyond clutch in the final minutes.
In the final 30 seconds of action, Ole Miss fouled Green three times, and the junior guard sank all six attempts to help put the Rebels away.
“It shows that we’re learning,” Green said. “We ended up getting to the free-throw line a lot. I knew I had to make those. It was routine to go up there and block out all the noise.”
Green finished the night with 23 points, four assists and two steals while also giving up just two turnovers of his own. In the final 10 minutes of the contest, Green had 13 points.
Green led an efficient night at the free throw line for Auburn, as the team sank 22-of-24 attempts at the line, good for a free throw percentage of 91.7%.
Often Green’s partner on the floor, Johni Broome was nearly as brilliant as Green in the final minutes as well as throughout the contest. Broome picked things up right where he left off in Nashville, finishing the game with 19 points and eight boards. He also added six blocks on the defensive end, including five in the final 10 minutes of action.
“I feel like it’s my job to anchor the defense and protect the rim,” Broome said. “I tried my best to do that.”
Auburn finished the game with 10 total blocks as the interior defense held Ole Miss to shooting just 41.4% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc. It was not a perfect night for Auburn on defense, with sloppy fouls sending Ole Miss to the line 32 times, but the Tigers made up for it behind a quarter of scorers.
Along with Green and Broome, Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan contributed 12 and 11 respectively, giving Auburn four double-digit scorers for the evening. Flanigan’s two highlight dunks in the first half helped spark two runs from Auburn, while Williams scored 10 of his 12 in the first half.
“Johni made some really big shots and some really big plays, had some big blocks,” Pearl said. “Al did a lot of things to impact winning, rebounding and made some big shots. Jaylin Williams was solid, and we did a great job from the foul line. I’m very happy for that group because they stepped up.”
Pearl called it a must-win, and the Tigers did exactly that. They are at 19 wins, with three more to go before the SEC Tournament. The clean-sweep of Ole Miss is Auburn’s only sweep of the season.
“Beating Ole Miss four times in a row, that’s significant,” Pearl said. “Now let’s see if we can play better down the stretch and beat some of the best teams on our schedule.”
With the NCAA Tournament still hanging in the balance, Auburn will look to make history this Saturday when the team travels to Lexington. The Tigers face off with Kentucky(20-9, 11-5 at Rupp Arena. Auburn has only won at Rupp twice in program history, neither time under Bruce Pearl. The Tigers will look to make history on Saturday, February 25 and win at Rupp for the first time since 1988. Tip-off for the big time SEC matchup is scheduled for 3 p.m. CST on CBS.
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