Auburn’s offense may have struggled in the first half, but the No. 19 Tigers (9-1) were able to get back on track thanks to a trio of double-digit scorers. Wendell Green Jr., Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams led the way in a 72-64 win over the Panthers of Georgia State (5-5).
“I know they can play better. I know they're better. But they've got to show it on both ends of the floor,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.
Williams, Broome and Green combined for 30 of Auburn’s 44 second-half points in the much needed victory, and Williams led the charge with 13 points on an efficient shooting percentage of 66%. The team as a whole shot 66% from the field in the second half, including 33% from beyond the arc, though the Tigers only attempted six three-pointers in the final 20 minutes and 12 in total. This came after another slow start offensively for the Tigers, with 28 points in the first half.
“We were second-guessing our shots in the first half, coming off of that last game to Memphis,” said freshman point guard Tre Donaldson.
The efforts of Broome, Green and Williams were needed after Auburn’s offense found nothing going in the first half except at the free throw line. The Tigers headed to the locker room at Neville Arena trailing 31-28, but the game felt more decisive than that.
Auburn secured 13 of its 28 first-half points at the foul line, and as a team the Tigers were shooting 31% from the field. Those issues, combined with a dangerous Panthers team that was shooting 44% from the floor and an uncharacteristic 50% from three-point land, and Auburn was in trouble after the first 20 minutes.
However, like many times before, the offense found life and the defense made adjustments, holding Georgia State to 31% from the field in the second half as well as 11% from three. The Tigers’ defense roared on its way to 11 blocks and nine steals, and the defense ignited the offense with 18 points on turnovers.
Williams was all over the floor, finishing with a team-leading 20 points, the third-most of his career, as well as eight rebounds and three blocks.
“Jaylin Williams was the best player on the floor and Jaylin Williams is capable of being the best player on the floor,” Pearl said. “[He] needs to act like it all the time, accept it, relish it and see if he can play better and do more.”
Tonight was only the fifth time in his career that Williams has reached three blocks or more.
With K.D. Johnson out for the game due to a coach’s decision, the guards would have to step up in the absence of the heart of the team and point guard Green delivered once again, while freshman Tre Donaldson showed off his potential and brought some much-needed energy in the second half. Green finished the night with 17 points, going 11-of-15 from the free throw line, and Donaldson added six points and three assists.
“Just staying mentally prepared and wait for my opportunity. And when I got it, I made the most of it,” Donaldson said on staying ready for his chance to play.
Green went down with an apparent ankle injury near the end of the contest, and Bruce Pearl said he will be out for a couple of days.
Auburn will certainly need Green down the stretch as this offense tries to find a path forward, but Bruce Pearl knows this team needs to take a step forward ahead of SEC play, which begins in two weeks.
“This team in the last 3 games is not playing well enough to beat the teams on our schedule. We have to improve in order to beat the teams coming up,” Pearl said. “There's got to be a level of accountability from our players to make plays on both ends of the floor.”
Auburn will hit the road for its first true road test of the year as it makes the trip to Los Angeles for a battle with USC (7-3).
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