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KD Johnson | Photo by Colin Beyersdorf

Double-Double Double Trouble: Tigers Cruise Past Jacksonville State

GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA (EETV)- All season long Auburn has struggled at the start of the second half. As the season has wound down, those woes have gotten worse. Giving up double-digit leads at Mississippi State, at home and on the road against Florida. 

In Auburn’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018-2019, Auburn’s second-half woes were nowhere to be found as the Tigers cruised to a SCORE over 15-seed Jacksonville State at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. The win moves Auburn to the second round of the NCAA Tournament to take on the winner of the game between 7-seed USC and 10-seed Miami. 

“That run at the end of the first and start of the second was just too much I think for us to overcome,” Jacksonville State head coach Ray Harper said. 

Auburn closed out the first half on an 11-0 run to give them a 37-29 lead going into halftime. When play returned in the second, Auburn jumped out on the Gamecocks with a 9-2 run. Effectively, growing the Auburn lead to 22 points with 17 minutes to play in the game. 

Over the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half, Auburn went on an 18-0 run and blew the game wide open. 

“It is one game,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “Let’s see if we can build on it.” 

Jabari Smith came out of the gates in the second on fire from 3-point range hitting two from beyond the arc in the 9-2 run. His scoring did not stop there. Smith put up 20 points in the win on 6-13 shooting. Smith went 4-7 from behind the arc in the win.

Smith added 14 rebounds to his stat line in order to pick up his sixth double-double of the season. 

“Tell Bruce to enjoy them over the next three weeks because he’s not going to see much of them,” Harper said. “Jabari has a lot of Kevin Durant in him.” 

Smith’s day was highlighted by his slam dunk over Jacksonville State’s Brandon Huffman. 

Auburn, who had been faltering down the stretch, played basketball the way that they had on their 18-game winning streak. Auburn picked up 23 assists and only turned the ball over 11 times in the win. 

“Yeah, I feel like we're best when we're having fun,” freshman Jabari Smith said. “We're best when we're loose. We're best when we're defending. We've just got to get back to that. I feel like this game is really going to help us get back to that and get back to us”

If this Auburn team gets back to being them, it could mean a long tournament run for Auburn. When Auburn is playing well and the way they played today, Auburn is a dangerous team. One that has won 18 games in a row before. Now, they only need to win five more in order to play for a national title. 

Walker Kessler played his first game without a shoulder brace and weeks and he returned to his dominant form. Kessler was one block shy of a triple-double, but his nine blocks were the most by an Auburn player in a single NCAA Tournament game. The now second place number is four by Kyle Davis in the sweet 16 in 2003. 

Kessler was able to pick up double-double No. 12 on the season in the win. The sophomore, a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and was a first-team All-SEC member, put up 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks in the performance. 

Auburn will play the winner of USC/Miami on Sunday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. Game time and where the game will air is still to be determined.