The 13-ranked Auburn Tigers (6-0) shot 26% from the field and an abysmal 23.8% from beyond the three-point line. They also turned the ball over 14 times and had 18 fouls. This was Auburn's worst offensive performance since a 45-40 loss to Florida in Tony Barbee's first season.
However, the Tigers prevailed over Northwestern (5-1) by a narrow 43-42 score behind depth and defense.
"Our offensive execution leaves a lot to be desired," said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. "But we showed heart, we showed character, we showed toughness, and we gutted this one out."
As Northwestern's 7-man rotation began to tire from the physical contest, Auburn remained aggressive behind a well-rested roster and the dangerous 11-man rotation. Pearl has touted the advantages of this lineup as his players through the offseason, and the Wildcats felt the effects tonight.
"We got a great stop at the end," Pearl said. "Part of the reason why we play 11 guys is so at the end and at the last possession, our guys can be fresh enough to get that stop."
Auburn's go-ahead basket came from a steal, and the Tigers were able to hold the Northwestern offense and secure the Cancun Challenge victory.
As difficult as it was on the offensive end for Auburn, Northwestern was worse. The Wildcats hit just 25.5% of their shots from the field and 8.3% of their 24 three-point attempts. Jaylin Williams, John Broome and Dylan Cardwell all led the way inside with two blocks each and a combined 17 of Auburn's 36 total rebounds tonight.
Auburn's three-point shooting was closer to its season average with 21 tonight, but the team made five combined, including three big shots from Jaylin Williams. Williams, with 11, was joined by guard K.D. Johnson as the only Auburn players in double figures tonight.
While Auburn struggled overall from the free throw line at 66.7%, Johnson was a perfect 7-for-7 on the night, one of his best games from the charity stripe.
"Wendell had an off night, but he was there at the end," Pearl said. "K.D. and Al, I thought, really played well, and Jaylin Williams made some big, big shots and had some big plays and some big rebounds. You need to be able to count on your veterans, and that's why we won the game."
Few struggled as much on offense as Wendell Green Jr., who did not make a shot in the first half and finished the game 1-of-9, with his only made basket coming in the contest's final minutes. Despite the issues offensively and being the shortest player on Auburn's roster, Green led both teams in rebounds with nine.
Jaylin Williams was named the MVP of the Cancun Challenge Riviera Division, while he and center Johni Broome made the All-Tournament team.
Auburn will have a tough flight back to Auburn tonight, and a quick turnaround as the Tigers will face St. Louis in Neville Arena on Sunday, November 27. The contest will be a rematch from last season, in which Auburn had a huge comeback victory on the road against the Billikens.
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