Henry Patton

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I have been writing about sports for five years now and am currently working at AuburnSports.com 

What JP Pegues can bring to Auburn

Auburn has its point guard.

The Tigers landed their first portal commitment in former Furman guard JP Pegues, who spent three years with Paladins before transferring.

Pegues, who stands at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, averaged 18.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 42 percent shooting and 36 percent from deep. He also shot 87.5 percent from the free-throw line.

In his final seven games of the season, Pegues averaged 25.6 points per game on a true shooting of 63.4 percent.

Pegues is a bit different from previous Bruce Pearl guards as he looks bigger than listed height and weight, and has a calm, controlled pace to his game that is rare for a college guard to possess.

Here's a deeper look into his game:

K.D. Johnson transferring after 'pretty good' three-year run

After three seasons at Auburn, K.D. Johnson entered the transfer portal on Tuesday.

Johnson’s production peaked his first season at Auburn when he averaged 12.3 points and 1.9 steals per game on 50 percent true shooting.

Johnson's true impact this season came on the defensive side of the ball where he ranked in the 86th percentile, per Synergy, allowing just 0.749 points per possession while holding his matchups to 32.1 percent shooting.

“I want to congratulate K.D. on three years of being in the NCAA Tournament, a regular-season championship, a tournament championship,” said Bruce Pearl. “That's a pretty good three-year run.”

After averaging 27.8 minutes per game in his first season on the Plains, Johnson’s court time steadily decreased to where he only averaged 17.7 minutes a night, more than a 10-minute decrease.

And with Denver Jones coming back for his final season combined with Tahaad Pettiford, who Pearl said he plans to play off the ball, the minutes were only going to go down for Johnson.

End-of-game collapse ends Auburn's season

For most of the game, it felt like Auburn was in control.

The Tigers led for 33:39 and even when Yale went on a run at the start of the second half, Auburn immediately responded and pushed the lead to as much as 10.

With 7:27 to go, Denver Jones hit a three to push Auburn's lead to 68-58. After that point, Auburn committed six turnovers, shot 2-of-7 from the line and was out-scored 20-8.

Something was missing in that stretch, and that something was Chad Baker-Mazara.

Auburn was up 12-5 early on and was getting whatever it wanted, but then Baker-Mazara was ejected and the energy shifted away from Auburn.

Auburn preparing for classic Ivy League offense

Ivy League offenses in the tournament are never an easy cover.

It's been proven time and time again with the most recent example being Princeton upsetting Arizona in the 2023 tournament.

The Ivy schools run unique offenses, and it's something that most schools aren't used to.

"They're really, really hard to cover," said Bruce Pearl. "With their five-out offense -- it's a unique offense and it's something that we see some but don't see a ton."

Tales from the locker room: Auburn wins SEC Tournament

For the first four years of his Auburn career, Jaylin Williams was winless in the SEC Tournament.

In his fifth and final season, he finally picked up his first SEC Tournament win. And then two days later, he was a champion.

It was a sweet moment for the man who had stuck at Auburn for half a decade.

"Feels good, man," Williams said. "Last couple years, we lost first round, I just feel like – seeing it now, learn from it. Keep working, opportunity is going to come. Stick around at Auburn, don’t hit the portal, do what you have to do. Your family has your back. Your teammates will always have your back. Stick around and great things are going to happen.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Aden Holloway, who is playing his first collegiate season.

Auburn and Florida playing for SEC Championship

Auburn is 40 minutes away from its fourth banner in the Bruce Pearl era.

Standing in their way? The Florida Gators, the one team that the Tigers had no answers against.

It's Todd Golden versus his mentor, Pearl, for an SEC Championship.

"I would be lying if I said I wouldn't prefer it to be someone else," Golden said. "But to meet them in the championship, it's going to just be an awesome game and a great opportunity for us. Neither side will be taking it easy on each other."

In their only matchup of the season, Florida jumped out a 9-0 lead and led by as much as 27 en route to an 81-65 win.

A key difference in that one? The game was in Gainesville, a place Auburn hasn't won in since 1996.

"We played fantastic at home all year," Golden said. "We had a bye that week and they were coming off -- I think they had beat Alabama by like 18 right before they played us. We had some things going our way in regards to the lead up to the game."

Notebook: Auburn versus Mississippi State

As it had been the previous two times the teams played, Auburn and Mississippi State engaged in a physical, gritty matchup.

In the end, it was Auburn who pulled out a 73-66 win over the Bulldogs to clinch a berth in the SEC Championship game.

The seven-point win was the lowest margin Auburn has won by all season, and its the first Tiger win that wasn't a double-digit game.

"It was a rock fight because both teams were playing really, really physical," said Bruce Pearl. "That's Mississippi State's MO. Our MO is playing hard all the time, not always quite as physical. They beat us on the boards, but we hung in there. We hung in there. I thought that was really important."

Notebook: Auburn versus South Carolina

It's safe to say that Auburn owns South Carolina at this point.

The Tigers cruised to an 86-55 win over the Gamecocks in their SEC Tournament opener.

Auburn shot 49 percent from the field and 47 percent from three and held South Carolina to 28 percent shooting and 25 percent from deep.

The Tigers will play Mississippi State on Saturday after the Bulldogs dominated Tennessee 73-56.

"Proud of our kids," said Bruce Pearl. "Coaching staff did a great job of getting us prepared. Guys had a really good week. We're looking forward to the opportunity to play Mississippi State tomorrow."

Rivals is part of the Yahoo family of brands

It's been an up-and-down freshman season for Aden Holloway.

In the first 13 games of SEC play, Holloway went through an extended slump, posting 5.5 points per game on 25 percent shooting and 20 percent from deep.

And then Auburn went to Athens where, after coming off the bench for the last month, Holloway returned to the starting lineup and put up 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from deep.

"It was definitely a good feeling, just being able to see the ball go in the basket," Holloway said. "Especially after going through something like that; I've never experienced that ever in my basketball career. Just a little adversity this year, (it) never hurt nobody."

Explaining Auburn's recent surge from deep

For most of the season, inconsistent has been the best way to describe Auburn's three-point shooting.

There were matchups such as the Baylor, Notre Dame and Indiana games where the Tigers' shooting potential was on display while there were others, like against Appalachian State and Alabama, where Auburn couldn't hit a shot to save its life.

For most of the season, Auburn had been unable to string multiple good shooting performances together, but over its last four games, the Tigers are shooting 44 percent from deep on 22.5 attempts per game.

It's a good time for that to happen, too, as the Tigers play their final regular season game before the single-elimination tournaments start.

Let's take a look at how Auburn has been generating and hitting threes:

Auburn looking to avoid letdown in Columbia

It's home stretch time for the regular season.

Auburn has two games in its season before postseason play, and it's the lightest stretch of the season.

It'll start in Columbia where Auburn will play its final road game of the season against Missouri.

After making the NCAA Tournament in Dennis Gates' first season, Mizzou has been dreadful in year two as it sits at 8-22 on the season and 0-16 in conference play.

Despite the brutal season, Bruce Pearl and Auburn, knowing that seeding is on the line, aren't taking the other Tigers lightly.

"Missouri has played everybody tough," Pearl said. "They have not laid down. They have not quit. They play as hard as anyone in the league. They’ve got three great guards that can really score and take over games. It’s senior night at Missouri, I can’t imagine the intensity and passion those guys are going to play with to get the victory. But it means a lot to us too."

No. 1 player in class of 2025 'loves it' in Auburn

It's hard to top hosting the best player in a recruiting class.

A.J. Dybantsa, the No. 1 player in the class of 2025, was in Auburn for the first time and was in attendance for the Tigers' win over Mississippi State.

“It’s a great environment," Dybantsa said. "They weren’t lying when they said it’s hard to win here. Obviously, students are very loud, very active, family-oriented. I love it here.”

With Dybantsa being the No. 1 player in his class, the likelihood of him being a one-and-done is incredibly high, so he wants to go somewhere that has proven it can prepare guys for the NBA.

On Saturday, he got to see Bruce Pearl's five-out, NBA-style offense in person. That, combined with Auburn's recent track record of producing NBA talent is a big deal for Dybantsa.

"Obviously, I want a coach, a program with experience that’s done things that I’m trying to do," Dybantsa said. "Like obviously, put guys in the NBA, I’m trying to go to the NBA. Guys with experience, coaches with experience, that’s big in my recruitment.”

Auburn gearing up to face quality MSU defense

Auburn is all but out of the SEC title race, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to play for.

The Tigers are widely projected as a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and considering Auburn's recent history in five/12 matchups (New Mexico State), Bruce Pearl knows how important it will be for Auburn to hold serve.

"Right now we’re sort of slotted as a four seed in the NCAA Tournament," Pearl said. "And to be in that 4/13, 5/12 block gives you a fighting chance to advance, you’re the best team to go to the Sweet 16. You get a five seed and you run into that 5/12 matchup, that’s a 50/50 matchup."

It certainly won't be easy for Auburn to do so as it faces a Mississippi State team that has won five of its last six and beat the Tigers earlier in the season in Starkville.

"Mississippi State is the third-toughest team to come to Neville Arena this year with Alabama and Kentucky being the two toughest opponents we’ve had based on the NET rankings and Mississippi State is a NET 31, just one slot out of Quad-1," Pearl said. "So we’ll have our (work) cut out for us."

How two defensive teams got into a track meet

A year prior in the same building, Auburn and Tennessee combined to score just 89 points which led to a 46-43 win for the Volunteers.

This season, despite the two teams both having top-5 defenses, was the exact opposite.

Tennessee, behind an unconscious shooting night from Dalton Knecht, pulled out a 92-84 home win over Auburn on Wednesday.

In the first 15 minutes of the game, the teams combined for 52 points which meant the game was on pace for a score in the 60's, which made sense. And then from there, the offenses exploded and it became a track meet.

"We score 84 points on the road against a good defensive team like Tennessee, you should be able to win," said Bruce Pearl.

So how did Tennessee (Knecht) score 92 against a defense that hadn't given up over 90 all season? And how did Auburn manage to have its best offensive road performance against the No. 4 defense in the country?

Here's a closer look:

Auburn defense carrying its offense

Prior to the season, Bruce Pearl had full confidence in his team’s offense, but the defense was a different story.

It wasn’t a crazy thought; Auburn had lost Allen Flanigan and Zep Jasper and replaced them with offensively inclined players - or so it thought.

“But I think we're better offensively than we are defensively,” Pearl told reporters before the season. “And I think our biggest challenge is one-on-one coverage."

With five regular season games to go, Auburn has an adjusted defensive rating of 91.9 which ranks No. 4 in the country, and allows just 0.825 points per possession which is No. 8 in the country and No. 3 among power conference teams.

A key factor has been Auburn’s incoming transfers all being pluses on the defensive end. Chaney Johnson is in the 96th percentile defensively, per Synergy; Denver Jones is in the 92nd percentile; and Chad Baker-Mazara ranks in the 85th percentile.

It’s safe to say that Pearl’s team has proven they can defend.

“Hearing coach Bruce saying the things he said about us (and) defense,” said Chaney Johnson. “Coach saying we can't really guard for real -- he didn't say those exact words, but kind of like that. Everybody on the team was just like, 'We're just going to show you we can guard.' We worked on it, practice all the time. We're probably going to defensive slides out there before practice.”

5-star guard 'loves' Auburn visit

Jasper Johnson has been hearing about the Jungle for a while, and on Saturday, he finally got to experience it.

"I love it," Johnson said. "Everyone was telling me that this is one of the craziest atmospheres that I'll ever be able to see. I see how the crowd really bought in and supported their team throughout the way. I know they didn't get the win, but the crowd and everybody was still bought into the game and still showed that they cared about their players, so I liked it."

It was an ugly game for Auburn, who lost to Kentucky 70-59, but even in the loss, the 5-star from Link Academy saw something from Bruce Pearl that impressed him.

"I was talking to coach, he had a plan for all of his players," Johnson said. "It's a lot of sacrifice going into it. I mean, a couple of players may not have played how they wanted to -- he just told them to stay together and to be a family."

Auburn preparing to face sharpshooting Kentucky offense

In a vacuum, this truly is just another game for Auburn.

If you ignore the names, this is just a matchup between a team near the top of the SEC and one that is in sixth and fighting for a double bye.

So again, in a vacuum, this is just another game for Auburn. But that's not how any of this works.

College Gameday is coming to town along with Kentucky, so despite the Wildcats' recent struggles, the buzz on campus is palpable.

"Just like any other Friday afternoon here on the Plains, Jay Bilas is on the main floor and there are 1,000 kids camping out in Jungleville," said Bruce Pearl. "You can feel the energy on campus."

Auburn versus South Carolina notebook

It was a top-15 matchup but it was also a complete mismatch.

After South Carolina went up 9-4, Auburn ended the half on an extended 46-19 run and never looked back en route to a dominant 101-61 win over South Carolina, the former SEC leader.

With the win, Auburn tied South Carolina's SEC record at 9-3. Both teams are half a game behind Alabama

"Tonight, after a slow start, we just made shots and played with great freedom," said Bruce Pearl. "I think the other thing, too, that was important was we also disrupted them offensively. We turned them over, we were aggressive and made play on offense out of our defense."

Auburn preparing for 'physical' South Carolina team

Bruce Pearl talks a lot about making history, and his team, along with South Carolina will be doing that Wednesday night.

When Auburn and South Carolina tip off Wednesday night, it'll be the first time the teams have matched up while both were ranked.

More importantly, the teams are separated by a game at the top of the SEC standings with South Carolina at 9-2 in conference and Auburn at 8-3.

It's similar to the Alabama game for Auburn: win to stay alive for the SEC crown.

"If we want to win the (SEC) championship, we have to beat South Carolina tomorrow," Pearl said. "Pretty simple. Already being a game behind them, two games behind them with six then to go would be something I don't think we would be able to overcome."

Pearl, Auburn remaining 'confident' in Holloway

It's not a secret that Aden Holloway has massively struggled in conference play.

After a strong start to the season, Holloway is averaging just 6.5 points per game on 23 percent shooting from behind the arc in conference play.

It's been a struggle for the former 5-star since the calendar flipped to 2024, but with that said, his teammates still have full faith in him and his shot.

"Everyone knows (Aden) can shoot," said Tre Donaldson. "Just telling him to continue to shoot. You're gonna miss, everybody misses, he's just in a drought right now. He'll definitely get it going because he stays in the gym, we're always in the gym together. Just him working through it right now, that's going to be his biggest thing is staying right and ready."

As bad as it may seem, Holloway's shooting isn't as rough as it may appear.

How Auburn exploited Alabama

Bruce Pearl knew it was a must-win. Johni Broome, Jaylin Williams and Auburn as a whole knew it too. They delivered.

Beating Alabama is always nice for Auburn, but more importantly, the Tigers needed this win to stay alive in the SEC title race.

Behind 50 combined points from Broome and Williams, a 16-2 run to end the first half and a clean game, Auburn pulled out its biggest win of the season in convincing fashion.

"I felt like going in this game was clearly the biggest regular season game we’ve had this year because if Alabama gets this one, they’re two games up on us and we’re probably not in the championship race and we’d like to still be in it," Pearl said. "And so we put ourselves in a position where at least we’re still in it."

So how did Auburn manage to boat-race a top 10 KenPom team? And why were there so many free throws?

Here's a deeper look:

Auburn versus Alabama notebook

Auburn answered the call in its biggest game all season.

Auburn defeated Alabama 99-81 on Wednesday night to create a four way tie atop the SEC between the two teams along with South Carolina and Tennessee.

Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome combined for 50 points on 15-of-29 shooting.

"I felt like going in this game was clearly the biggest regular season game we’ve had this year because if Alabama gets this one, they’re two games up on us and we’re probably not in the championship race and we’d like to still be in it," said coach Bruce Pearl. "And so we put ourselves in a position where at least we’re still in it."
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