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5 takeaways from Auburn's 82-73 loss to Memphis

Nathan King
8–10 minutes

ATLANTA — Bruce Pearl always says he likes his teams to be challenged early in the year with tough nonconference competition. Auburn may have also been humbled a bit Saturday night, too.

Showing major defensive weaknesses for the first time all season, No. 11 Auburn failed to keep up with Memphis down the stretch and lost its first game of the season inside State Farm Arena, 82-73.

"Their defense was terrific," Pearl said postgame. "Our defense wasn't. I knew there were times that we'd struggle offensively. But if we had really guarded, and took some ownership of that, they wouldn't have scored 82 points."

The loss is Auburn's first to an unranked team in nonconference play since falling at UCF in 2020.

Here are Auburn Undercover's immediate takeaways from Atlanta.

Auburn defense struggles for first time in 2022

The Holiday Hoopsgiving nightcap had promise of an elite defensive showdown, featuring teams that both entered the game top 20 nationally in defensive efficiency.

Instead, Memphis exposed some weaknesses, particularly in the rebounding department and defending around the basket. Auburn’s highest point total given up this season was 66. Memphis hit that with 8 minutes to go.

"It's the first time that defense didn't carry the day for us," Pearl said. "I knew the offense would be challenged, but we really, really weren't very well-prepared. Didn't play with the kind of effort and energy that we've been playing with on the defensive end. I've got to take ownership of that. I'll put the loss on me. I got out-coached. Our team got out-prepared. They were more ready to play than we were, and that's on me."

It was apparent in the early going Auburn had some issues. Memphis hit 7-of-8 shots and forced Pearl into a rare timeout, down 19-12 less than midway through the first half.

K.D. Johnson then decided to take over. The junior scored back-to-back buckets, including a tough coast-to-coast layup through contact, then forced a Memphis turnover to help Auburn mount an 8-0 lead to grab the lead right back.

Memphis had seven turnovers in the span of less than 5 minutes, but Auburn struggled to efficiently capitalize. The Tigers had only 7 points off 13 Memphis giveaways in the first half.

Nineteen turnovers for the game are the most Auburn's forced in a loss since 24 in last year's double-overtime defeat to UConn in November.

And Auburn’s defense had a tough time adjusting out of the locker room, too. Memphis made 10 of its first 16 shots after the break, including eight straight baskets to go up by 10, its largest lead of the game. Memphis found a groove with cutters to the basket, which became its most effective form of scoring.

"They drove it right around us; they drove it left around us," Pearl said. "They got to the rim, and they scored. We didn't rotate very well. We weren't very physical defensively. Again, we didn't make them score through our chest."

The Tigers entered the game No. 1 nationally in shot-blocking, and had just two rejections on the night — both coming late by Dylan Cardwell.

"I feel like they were being very schemey with it," Auburn forward Chris Moore said. "Our coaches tell us to stay home with a lot of that. We bought into the game plan for the most part. Usually our bigs are the ones to come over when one of our guards get beat — to come get a block. This game plan was originally to stay home. That's probably why our rim protection wasn't there."

It led to a massive discrepancy in points in the paint, with Memphis finishing with an 50-24 advantage.

Things continued to crumble down the stretch, with the Tigers continuing to struggle in several facets. Players were missing open layups, turning the ball over at midcourt and allowing Memphis to drive right to the hoop. Memphis led by as many as 15 and shot 52 percent in the second half — even though it went the last 4:47 of the game without a made shot.

Point guard Kendric Davis, the reigning American conference player of the year, was as impressive as advertised, with 27 points on the night. DeAndre Williams was also tough to stop, with 16 points and 11 boards.

Late Auburn run

As is usually the case with Pearl's team, Auburn didn't quit despite a late deficit. Back-to-back blocks by Cardwell — which happened to be Auburn's first blocks of the game — followed by a clean trip to the foul line for Johnson brought Memphis' lead down to single digits, 73-65 for the first time in several minutes with a 6-0 run.

Auburn strung together a few stops, which it hadn't done consecutively for most of the game, but its offense went stagnant at the worst time, highlighted by Moore missing an easy layup in transition. Pearl got hit with a technical foul, and Davis cashed a pair of free throws to put the lead back to 10 points.

"I've watched a ton of Auburn games where they can be down 10 with 4 minutes to go, and they can win by 10," Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. "I could feel that momentum going their way. When they got that rebound and Chris (Moore) took off, I was like, man. That layup would put it to 6 (points). That's tough with 3 minutes to go."

Rough night on the glass

Memphis owned a 25-11 rebounding advantage in the first half, including a whopping nine rebounds to just one for the orange and blue Tigers. As a result, Auburn didn’t have a single second-chance basket in the first half.

Memphis’ dominance on the board led to a late burst for Hardaway’s team, which went on a 9-0 run in the closing minutes of the first half — just after Auburn grabbed a lead – to go up 38-32 at the break.

Issues continued to fester, and Auburn was ultimately out-worked 43-31 on the glass.

"Got out-rebounded by a pretty good number," Pearl said. "And we were bigger, and we were stronger. They were much more experienced, much quicker, more athletic. They were long, and that length, obviously, bothered us."

Johnson’s return home

Johnson, an Atlanta native who transferred from Georgia last offseason, estimated this week he would have at least 100 friends and family in the arena Saturday. He gave them a good show, as arguably Auburn's best offensive player.

With 10 points in the first half alone, Johnson got into double figures (14 points) for the fifth time in his past six games.

"It was very special to come back home and play," Johnson said. "But unfortunately we didn't get a W."

Moore had an effective evening, shooting 2-of-2 from beyond the arc with 10 points. Johni Broome (11 points, six rebounds) also got into double figures after a slow start. Wendell Green Jr. got into double figures late (12 points) but shot 0-of-4 from 3-point range and had four turnovers.

Auburn shot 38 percent from the floor as a team. The 3-ball looked as if it could be a viable weapon for the Tigers in the early going, after Auburn made three of its first four looks from downtown. It then went on to miss three of its other 20 3-point attempts in the game.

'NCAA tournament crowd'

With both teams projected to make the NCAA tournament this season, they got a good taste of a high-level, neutral-site environment early in the season. Although it was a majority Auburn crowd, Memphis fans made their presence felt, too.

“This was an NCAA tournament, second-round crowd — and it’s all orange,” Hardaway said. “I was like wow, they travel well.”

It was Auburn's third straight trip to the Holiday Hoopsgiving event, and Pearl said earlier this week he expects the Tigers to play a "big-name opponent" next year, too.

“I thought it was a good atmosphere,” Pearl said. “Our fans traveled. They did a great job. I apologize that we didn't play better.”

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Kendric Davis scores 27 as Memphis basketball takes down No. 11 Auburn

Jason Munz
4–5 minutes

ATLANTA ― Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams combined for 43 points in Memphis basketball’s 82-73 win over No. 11 Auburn on Saturday at State Farm Arena.

The arena, teeming with a predominantly boisterous Auburn crowd for most of the game, was left alone to a largely raucous Memphis contingent in the closing minutes. Auburn closed the gap to as few as eight points with fewer than two minutes left, but the Tigers held on.

Davis scored 27 points, adding nine rebounds and six assists. The Tigers were serenaded by a spirited rendition of "Whoop That Trick" as they left the court after the win, which is an important nonconference notch in their NCAA Tournament resumé.

Memphis (8-2) won its sixth straight game and knocked Auburn (8-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten. The Tigers will try to knock off another top-15 team Tuesday when it travels to No. 8 Alabama (8 p.m., ESPN2).

Here are five observations from Saturday’s victory.

Kendric Davis clutch late

For all his flash and ferociousness, Davis also does the little things that matter just as much or more.

With Auburn threating to cut the Memphis lead to six at the 1:57 mark, shortly after Williams fouled out with four minutes to play, Davis took a charge that stopped the momentum.

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Twenty-six seconds later, Davis helped prevent an easy Chris Moore layup. After the miss, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl was called for a technical foul, and Davis buried two free throws to put Memphis up 75-65.

Second-half DeAndre Williams

Williams, who has been as important to Memphis’ success this season as anyone, found it tough to get going in the first half. Mainly because he was stuck on the bench for 10 minutes with three personal fouls.

But Williams showed up in the second half. He scored 12 of his 16 points after halftime and collected six of his game-high 11 rebounds over the final 20 minutes. Williams, who missed a triple-double by three assists last week against Ole Miss, notched his third double-double of the year.  


Keeping them off the offensive glass

One of the primary points of emphasis for the Tigers as they prepared for Auburn was limiting the offensive rebounds for Pearl’s team.

“We’re getting them. But we’re giving them up,” Hardaway said Thursday. “So, we’ve gotta do better with that. We have to be more serious on boxing out and taking guys off the offensive glass.”

Memphis came through, especially early, limiting Auburn to just one offensive rebound in the first half. Auburn had more success in the second half, but the Tigers still held it to 11.

Memphis overcomes odds late in first half

Memphis mostly has stayed out of foul trouble this season. Even Williams, who has struggled in his Tigers career with fouls, had fouled out just once.

In the first half Saturday, though, Williams and others couldn’t steer clear of the whistle. Williams, Malcolm Dandridge and Alex Lomax each caught three personals. As a result, Williams played just 10 minutes before halftime, Dandridge played just four and Lomax only nine.

All three were on the bench for the final 3:37 of the first half, when Auburn held a 30-29 lead. But the Tigers closed the half on a 9-2 run, spurred by a mix of sound defense, timely offensive rebounding (two by Elijah McCadden) and balanced scoring (Davis 3, Chandler Lawson 2, McCadden 2, Keonte Kennedy 2).

Minimizing the damage

For well as Memphis played in spurts in the first half – going 8-for-10 shooting during one five-minute stretch and while not allowing Auburn to score more than two straight baskets without a miss – it also struggled.

Tremendously, in fact. During one stretch, the Tigers committed seven of their whopping 13 first-half turnovers over a 4:28 span. Memphis’ first-half turnover total was as many or more than the team committed in six of its first nine games this season.

But Memphis saved itself from regretting most of them. Auburn, which shot 36% in the first half, parlayed all those Memphis cough-ups into just seven points. The Tigers scored 13 points off just eight Auburn turnovers.

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at jason.munz@commercialappeal.com or on Twitter @munzly.

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Observations from No. 11 Auburn’s 82-73 loss against Memphis at State Farm

Published: Dec. 10, 2022, 8:55 p.m.
4–6 minutes

Bruce Pearl vs UAH

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl reacts during the first half of the team's exhibition college basketball game against Alabama-Huntsville on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)AP

Kendric Davis scored 27 points to pace Memphis in an 82-73 victory against No. 11 Auburn in front of a primarily Orange and Blue-clad crowd in Atlanta at State Farm Arena. Memphis coach Penny Hardaway noticed the audience was overwhelmingly in favor of Auburn, which is less than a 90-minute drive from the arena.

“When I walked out and saw that crowd,” Hardaway said. “I was like, ‘this is a Final Four crowd’ this is really an NCAA tournament second-round crowd, and it was all Orange, and I was like, ‘Wow, they travel well with their fans and how passionate they are... It was a tournament atmosphere.

K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green led Auburn with 14 points each. Johni Broome had 11 points, and Chris Moore scored 12 to give Auburn four players with at least 10 points. Johnson had 10 first-half points, and his jumper at the 9:35 mark gave the Tigers a 20-19 lead.

Johnson grew up less than 15 minutes from the arena where the Atlanta Hawks play. The loss provided a bittersweet homecoming.

“I ain’t get to see my family (after the game); I was just dealing with the loss,” Johnson said. “We were just chilling in the locker room, but it was very special to come back home and play. But unfortunately, we didn’t get a W.”

Let’s get into a few observations from Auburn’s first loss of the 2022-23 season.

-- Auburn got worked in the paint and on the boards. Memphis outscored Auburn 50-24 in the paint and outrebounded Auburn 43-32. Memphis bullied Auburn, and it showed up around the rim.

“The reason why they got so many points in the paint is that they just drove the ball to the basket. They drove it right around us,” Pearl said. “They drove it left around us. They got to the rim, and they scored. We didn’t rotate very well. We weren’t very physical defensively. Again, we didn’t make them score through our chest.”

-- Auburn entered the game leading the nation in blocked shots. Memphis planned to pull Tiger big men Dylan Cardwell and Broome away from the basket, and it worked. Cardwell had two blocks late in the second half, but that was it for the game.

“I feel like they were being very schemey with it,” Auburn forward Chris Moore said. “Our coaches tell us to stay home with a lot of that. We bought into the game plan for the most part. Usually, our bigs are the ones to come over when one of our guards get beat -- to come to get a block. This game plan was originally to stay home. That’s probably why our rim protection wasn’t there.”

-- Auburn got within eight points when Johnson hit two free throws with a little over three minutes left in the game. The Tigers had a chance to get within six points when Johnson got a steal at the 1:35 mark, but Moore missed the layup. Pearl felt Moore got fouled on the play and ended up getting a technical foul for debating with the refs.

Davis made the free throws and got fouled by Green on the following possession. Davis made both foul shots, and Memphis was back up by 12 with a little over a minute remaining.

“I’ve watched a ton of Auburn games where they can be down 10 with four minutes to go and win by 10,” Hardaway said. “They’re so dynamic, and I could feel that momentum going their way. When they got that rebound and Chris took off, I was like, oh man, that layup takes it to six. That’s tough with the momentum going, with three minutes to go. When he missed that layup, Kendric’s (Davis) charge took us over the hump and finalized the game.”

-- After the game, Memphis players had a celebratory water dousing for their head coach.

“We came in wanting to be the tougher team, mentally and physically, because you know you have to play that way against Coach Pearl’s team,” Hardaway said. “The excitement after was real, and that’s why they doused me with water. It was a big win for us. We’ve been working really hard.”

-- Auburn (8-1) returns to Neville Arena Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT for a game against Georgia State before embarking on a West Coast trip to Southern Cal and Washington leading up to SEC play.

Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group

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