We played respectably well in Fayetteville, in a tough environment against a big team that is a bad matchup for us. Like we've done all year, we battled back when things looked bleak and got the game into overtime. We were dominated on the boards, again, and that was ultimately the difference in the game. Justin Coleman had a breakout game, scoring 22 points, and Cooper had a great first half, while Levi stepped up late and in overtime.
Once again, our clock management skills would make Les Miles cringe. Down 3, with 20 seconds remaining, we pass up a wide open 3 only to throw the ball in to Kessens in the paint, WITH 2 SECONDS LEFT ON THE CLOCK, but Arkansas inexplicably bailed us out with a dumb foul giving Mike the And One. Hale finally stepped up and make a big 3 to tie the game late in the overtime period, but then proceeded to stare at the ball at the other end instead of blocking his man out, who got the rebound and the put back to end the game.
So with a quick turnaround we had to play our in-state rivals Saturday afternoon. auburn played over their heads, as we knew they would, and Bama did not match their intensity for the first 35 minutes of the game.
auburn torched our zone early and forced us to switch to a man. From there, the game just got extremely physical and ugly on both ends. I usually try to refrain from criticizing the officials, and I know this was a difficult game to call, but they blew a number of calls on both sides and generally just let the game get out of control. Our guys seemed to get frustrated easily, I think we let the officials take us out of our game a bit. Bowers for auburn is one of the dirtiest, most classless players I have seen in a long time. He was taking cheap shots on Kessens and Cooper all day, running his mouth, talking trash, and even flexing and taunting our guys when they got a 8 point lead. There may be a bit of Karma involved in Levi and Coop beating him to key rebounds in the final minute as we came back to win the game.
I was actually hoping Grant would do something to pick up a technical foul in the second half. I thought the team needed to know he had their back, and it would help energize a team that looked lethargic. Instead, it was Tarrant who picked up his 2nd technical foul leading to an ejection. Tarrant's technical foul was a byproduct of the holding and pushing every time auburn pressed, and the officials not calling it all day. To say auburn played physical would be an understatement. It's almost as if Antoine Mason passed on the knowledge he learned from his Dad's cheap-shot artist NY knicks teams of the 90's to his auburn teammates. Regardless, the team seemed to pick it up a notch after his ejection, with Levi getting a steal and a dunk and the comeback was on.
Coleman did a nice job of running the point down the stretch, and Levi took it upon himself to get us back in the game. As many games as we have lost on the boards this year, it was great to win won when Cooper got the put back from Levi's missed shot at the end.
You guys know I am not a fan of this trophy presentation, as I believe it reinforces the notion that basketball is the little brother sport in this state. That being said, I'm not sure we have a sellout crowd without it, and the atmosphere was actually great. Nobody left at halftime and the crowd was loud and supportive down the stretch. It was great to see Coach Grant actually encouraging the crowd to make noise late in the game. auburn brought more fans than usual, I would say maybe 1,000 or so. It was a little disappointing to see several of them sitting in the floor and other premium seating areas.
Make no mistake, as long as that sleaze bag of a coach resides in Lee County, their talent level will improve, they will play dirty on and off the floor, and they will become more than a nuisance.
Up next, another quick turnaround as the Florida Gators come in for an 8pm tip off Tuesday night. Coach Grant has never beat Billy Donovan, but this is a Gators team that is a little down this year, and if we want to make the NCAA tournament this is almost a must-have game. Let's see if we can make it 3 sell outs in a row.