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Despite cold shooting, Auburn edges Northwestern in Cancun championship game

Mark Murphy
5–7 minutes


With both teams producing enough bricks to construct a small Mayan pyramid, Auburn outlasted Northwestern 43-42 to stay unbeaten early in the 2022-23 basketball season. The Tigers managed to win despite shooting 26 percent from the field on Wednesday night to capture the Cancun Classic championship in Mexico.

The Wildcats, who also came into the game with a 5-0 record, made just 25 percent of their field goals in the first-ever basketball game between the teams.

Allen Flanigan’s driving basket with 31.7 seconds left proved to be the winning margin.

Junior guard K.D. Johnson scored 12 points to lead the Tigers. He hit all seven of his free throws. It is his third consecutive game to reach double figures.

Jaylin Williams was Auburn’s other double figures scorer with 11 points. He was 3-6 on treys on a night the Tigers made 5-21 threes. Williams was named the tournament Most Valuable Player.

Johni Broome, who finished with five points and eight rebounds, was also selected to the All-Tournament team.

“The fact that we held Northwestern to 42 points tells you a lot about our effort, our energy and our defense,” Coach Bruce Pearl said. “That had to carry us.

“Our bench struggled, our young guys struggled as you would expect with the physicality,” Pearl said. “Wendell (Green) had an off-night, but he was there at the end.”

Green’s only basket put Auburn ahead 41-40 with 1:44 to play. The junior made just one of nine field goals, but hit a mid-range jumper when the Tigers desperately needed a basket. The point guard also tied his career-high for rebounds with 10 on a night the Tigers out-rebounded the Wildcats 44-36.

“K.D. and Al (Allen Flanigan), I thought played really, really well and obviously Jaylin Williams made some big, big shots and some big plays with some big rebounds,” said Pearl, who added that the Tigers have a lot of work they need to do to improve.

11464459.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 K.D. Johnson led the Tigers in scoring on Wednesday night. (Photo: Steven Leonard)

Pearl did like what he saw on the final play as the Tigers kept the Wildcats from regaining the lead. He said it showed "a little heart" and a "little character" with the game on the line.

Both teams struggled to score in the first half. Auburn produced 10 of the first 12 points, but it took more than eight minutes for that to happen.

A three-pointer by Flanigan, who was called for three fouls in the first half. gave the Tigers their largest lead in the first half at 13-4 at 11:56.

The Tigers managed just six more points the rest of half and the game was tied 19-19 at the break.

Auburn made just five field goals on 27 shots (18.5 percent) in the first half and was 2-11 on threes and 7-11 at the foul line. The Tigers were plus five in rebounding margin at the break.

The Wildcats made 4-24 shots (16.7 percent) in the first half and were 0-12 on threes and 11-14 at the foul line. Northwestern turned the ball over five times in the first half, three fewer than the Tigers.

The second half was much tighter. Northwestern’s biggest lead came at the 12:02 mark at 31-25, but Auburn scored 10 consecutive points to regain the lead at 35-31.

At the end the Tigers need to make one more defensive stop when the Wildcats held for the last shot after Flanigan’s basket in transition after a steal by Green.

Auburn made 13-50 shots while Northwestern hit 14-56, but was 2-24 from on threes to 5-21 for the Tigers. Auburn hit 12-18 free throws to 12-16 for Northwestern.

Auburn out-rebounded the Wildcat sby eight, but turned the ball over 14 times, six more than Northwestern.

Pearl said that the Tigers will play a better team on Sunday when Saint Louis visits Neville Arena. "I don't think that is an NCAA Tournament team," Pearl said of Northwestern. "I just don't even though they were 5-0, 5-1 now. That is one we kind of one we had to get. Saint Louis, now, they are an NCAA Tournament team. They will compete for the Atlantic 10 championship.

"We need an unbelievable crowd on Sunday for that game," Pearl added. "That will be one of the best teams to come to Neville Arena this year. There will be three or four SEC teams as good or a little better."

Worth Noting: After building a nine-point lead at the 11:56 mark in the first half the Tigers played four minutes and 46 seconds before scoring again on a rebound basket by Dylan Cardwell.

Stat of the Game: Auburn held the Wildcats to 16.7 percent on three-pointers.

Not So Magnificent Seven: Northwestern used just seven players in the game while the Tigers went with 11 players. Auburn's bench scored 23 points to 13 for the Wildcats.

All-Tournament Team: Jaylin Williams (Auburn) – MVP, Johni Broome (Auburn), Chase Audige (Northwestern), Ty Berry (Northwestern), Malevy Leons (Bradley), Darius McGhee (Liberty)

Going Low: The 19 first half points were the fewest for the Tigers by halftime since scoring 19 in a loss to Clemson in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at San Diego.

Box Score


Up Next: The Tigers will be a home for a 2 p.m. CST game on Sunday vs. the Saint Louis Billikens. It will be televised on the SEC Network.

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Takeaways from Auburn Basketball’s win vs. Northwestern

Jeremy Robuck
~3 minutes

Auburn started off slow tonight in the second night of a back to back. The score was tied 19-19 at halftime. Both teams were tired, and it was sloppy on both ends. The Tigers did not have a great offensive night, and the game came down to the last possession. Great teams pull out close ugly games like this. The Auburn Tigers are Cancun Challenge champions. Here are a few takeaways from tonights game.

Tournaments are tiring

Both teams looked winded tonight. Of course, they each played games last night. They have also traveled internationally and have been having fun in the sun. The weather is in the 80s down in Cancun, and Bruce has been preaching hydration. Auburn looked fresh last night and tired tonight. This was certainly a contributing factor to the sloppy play.

This Auburn team is very deep

Bruce Pearl is giving big minutes to eleven different players. Coach Pearl has also stated that he does not feel there is much, if any, drop off from his first to his second unit. He has also stated that it’s not necessarily his best five that are starting, but that he’s playing rotations of players he feels fit together. The good news about so many players getting minutes is that if multiple guys are having off nights, there are so may players that can step up. We are yet to see if this rotation will tighten before conference play, but the Tigers will have serious depth regardless.

Officiating could be a problem for Auburn this year

Defense is the centerpiece again for the Tigers this year. They are physical, aggressive, and passionate on defense. However, how much physicality is allowed on a nightly basis can vary wildly depending on the officiating crew. The refs were a primary controversial subject in college basketball last year, and this may be the case again. Auburn fans have been frustrated by officiating much of this year, but never more so than tonight. Morale in this department could be an issue for the Tigers this year as they learn to keep their head up and keep playing hard if calls aren’t going their way. This did appear to happen tonight, but Auburn rallied and pulled out a win.

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5 takeaways from Auburn's 43-42 win over Northwestern

Nathan King
6–8 minutes

Bruce Pearl said he wanted his team tested away from the “friendly confines” of Neville Arena — particularly on offense.

The Tigers passed with flying colors Tuesday — then struggled mightily less than 24 hours later.

But defense prevailed, saving an Auburn team that shot 26 percent from the floor in the Cancun Challenge championship game Wednesday night in a 43-42 win over Northwestern.

Auburn's 43 points are its fewest in a game since it lost 53-35 to Tulsa in Pearl's fourth game as head coach in 2014.

"Our offensive execution leaves a lot to be desired," Pearl said postgame. "But we showed heart, we showed character, we showed toughness, and we gutted this one out."

Here are Auburn Undercover’s immediate takeaways.

Dreadful start for both squads

Neither offense — which combined for 151 points in their first games in Mexico on Tuesday — could get anything going for the majority of the first half.

Auburn and Northwestern combined to shoot 9-of-51 from the floor in the first half, including an 0-for-11 mark from 3-point range for the Wildcats. The Tigers got 5 points apiece from Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan, but its starters shot 1-of-15 with five turnovers in the first half, including an 0-for-7 mark — and 0-of-3 from deep — from Wendell Green Jr.

Northwestern chipped away at what was an Auburn lead for the majority of the first half by attacking the basket; the Wildcats drew 12 fouls and shot 14 free throws in the first half, allowing them to go on a 7-0 run and tie the game at 19-19 heading to the break, all while missing nine of 10 shots during that span.

"Our bench struggled, our young guys struggled — as you would expect with the physicality," Pearl said.

Tigers look to their veterans

Two upperclassmen stepped up for Auburn down the stretch, especially during a scoring run midway through the second half that swung the energy back in the Tigers’ favor.

Williams started both halves with a 3-pointer, but that served as Auburn’s only made basket after the break for a few minutes. Northwestern, meanwhile, made its first triple of the night after an 0-for-17 start and took a 31-25 lead.

Auburn then mounted a 10-0 run on the backs of Williams and junior guard K.D. Johnson. Williams scored 5 points in 24 seconds — his third 3-pointer of the game, then a steal and breakaway slam for Auburn’s first fastbreak points of the game — followed by a driving basket from Johnson. Center Johni Broome scored his first bucket of the game after an offensive rebound, and Auburn led the Wildcats 35-31 midway through the second half.

Williams (11 points) and Johnson (12 points) combined for 53.5 percent of Auburn's scoring.

"Jaylin Williams made some big, big shots, had some big shots, and made some big rebounds," Pearl said.

Following his team's run, Pearl had to call timeout after Northwestern responded with a 6-2 run over the next 4 minutes to tie the game on a pick-and-roll dunk from big man Matthew Nicholson.

Northwestern played only a seven-man rotation but kept up its defensive intensity all night and forced Auburn into an uncomfortable halfcourt offense that yielded only seven assists. Auburn’s defense was stellar, as well, as Northwestern shot 2-of-24 from long range and had only four assists.

"That's the only way they could beat us (from 3-point range)," Pearl said. "And obviously they didn't have legs, playing back-to-back games."

Northwestern's 42 points are the fewest given up by Auburn since the Tigers beat Troy 77-41 in December 2020.

Auburn wins with defense

A pair of highly ineffective offenses ended up producing a highly entertaining finish.

After a couple big foul shots from Johnson, Northwestern's Chase Audige responded with a seismic 3-pointer — only the Wildcats' second made triple of the game — with 3 minutes left to give Northwestern the lead.

Green Jr.'s first and only points of the game then came on a stepback jumper with 1:41 left to put Auburn up 41-40.

"Wendell had an off night, but he was there at the end," Pearl said.

Audie responded again with another go-ahead bucket, then Broome turned it over with less than a minute remaining.

Green Jr. and Flanigan combined to trap Nicholson for a turnover near midcourt, and Flanigan (7 points) scored the game's final shot after Green Jr. was knocked over but no foul was called.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins called timeout and drew up the final possession, and Auburn won with defense, stifling Audige's fadeaway on the base line and gang-rebounding as the final buzzer sounded.

"Part of the reason we play 11 guys is so that at the end — during that possession — my guys can be fresh enough to get that stop," Pearl said.

Simplifying things for Westry

Past the senior Flanigan, Pearl got almost zero offensive production from his 3 spot.

Freshman Chance Westry played 10 minutes and didn't record a single statistic but grabbed two fouls, and junior Chris Moore cooled off from his strong start this season, also going scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting with only a rebound and three fouls.

Pearl said he may need to simplify things for Westry moving forward, as the former top-40 overall recruit has been playing both guard spots and the 3 early in the season.

"It's difficult with Chance Westry coming in and playing for the first time," Pearl said. "He's got to know what we're doing. Right now he's struggling to know what we're doing -- and I probably need to get him at one position because that's just too much to be playing all that stuff. I've got to figure that out."

Interior play disappoints Pearl

Like most other positions Wednesday night, Auburn was solid at center on the defensive end of the floor. Broome and Dylan Cardwell combined for five blocks, and Northwestern had only 18 points in the paint.

Pearl wanted more physicality and assertiveness around the basket on offense, though. After scoring 18 points the previous night, Broome took only three shots and had 5 points. Cardwell made 2-of-4 buckets in the paint.

"We've got to be more physical," Pearl said. "I thought our 5 men, Johni and Dylan. could have been more physical in there. That was an issue."

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Auburn remains undefeated after 43-42 win vs. Northwestern

Published: Nov. 23, 2022, 11:03 p.m.
3–4 minutes

Men’s Basketball: Auburn vs Bradley

November 22, 2022; Cancun, QR, MX; Bruce Pearl reacts during the game between Auburn and Bradley at Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya. Mandatory Credit: Steven Leonard/AU AthleticsSteven Leonard/AU Athletics

Bruce Pearl had a mix of delight for a 43-42 win against Northwestern and disappointment in his team shooting 26% on 13-50 attempts and 5-21 from three.

Wendell Green Jr missed his first seven shot attempts before nailing a jumper to give the Tigers a 41-40 lead with 1:43 left in the second half. Allen Flanigan two of his seven points on a layup with 31 seconds left to bring Auburn to the final score of 43-42.

“Our offensive execution leaves a lot to be desired,” Pearl said. “But we showed heart, we showed character, we showed toughness, and we gutted this one out.

The Tigers had to make a play on defense, and Green nabbed the last rebound as Chase Audige’s shot grazed the rim with the clock hitting zeroes. Audige led Northwestern with 10 points, and Green finished the game with his 10th rebound. Green finding ways to contribute when not shooting well is why Pearl kept him on the court for over 30 minutes.

Both teams’ woeful shooting aided Green’s ability to get rebounds; however, 10 boards as the shortest man on the court is an example of the tenacity Pearl enjoys in his players. Green also created the turnover that led to Flanigan’s shot with less than 30 seconds left in the game.

“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.”

K.D. Johnson was 2-8 from the field but was 7-7 from the charity stripe. Johnson led the Tigers in scoring with 12 points. Jaylin Williams was second with 11 points.

Auburn scored a season-low 43 points. It was the fewest points since scoring 45 against Tennessee on Feb. 9, 2016 in a 75-45 loss. The Tigers scored 19 first-half points – the fewest in a first half since 19 versus Clemson in the 2018 NCAA Second Round in an 84-53 loss.

Despite the poor shooting and other miscues, the Tigers won with a defensive stop by Green, which is a testament to the depth of the team created by Pearl.

“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 boarded a flight back to the Plains shortly after the game. The Tigers will host Saint Louis on Sunday for a 2 pm CT tip at Neville Arena. Fans can watch the contest on the SEC Network.

Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.

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