The Auburn men's basketball team take on the Texas A&M Aggies in College Station on Wednesday for their second SEC road game of the season.
Auburn is heading into Reed Arena coming off a roller coaster of a week that kicked off their conference play.
Last Wednesday, the team suffered a huge loss on the road against a red hot Ole Miss team, 82-67. The Rebel's, now ranked 18th in the latest poll, was able to silence every comeback Auburn experienced throughout the game and kept the team just under 33% shooting from the field. To put in bluntly, this was Auburn's worst performance of the year as a team.
Fortunately, Bruce Pearl's squad kept their heads up, regrouped, and turned things around against Georgia this Saturday. The Tigers won decisively in front of the fans at Auburn Arena, 93-78, in a game where the team focused more on moving the ball around for the best shot possible, which resulted in a 50% shooting performance from the field. Jared Harper led the way with 22 points and Anfernee Mclemore chipped in 15 more off the bench.
Looking towards Wednesday, the team will now face a Texas A&M squad coached by seventh-year Head Coach Bill Kennedy. Overall, the Aggies are struggling to find the kind of success they found last season where they appeared in their sixth ever Sweet Sixteen. The team, who have a .500 record for the year, would be in the midst of a four-game losing streak if not for a late game buzzer beater by TJ Starks against Alabama.
Because of this, Texas A&M will look to ride this momentum and turn it into an upset bid against Auburn. Here is how Auburn can stop that momentum in its tracks and secure their first SEC road win of the year.
Force the Aggies to shoot from deep
One thing this Texas A&M team does not boast at this point in the season is a strong offense. The team scores at the third worst clip in the entire conference at 75.4 points per game and shoot only the 10th best percentage from the field at 44.9%. However, the number that sticks out the most is the team's 28.6% three-point percentage, which is a conference-worst.
Christian Mekowulu, a 6-8 forward who transferred from Tennessee State, is the only player on the team who shoots over 40% from the three-point line. The Aggie's top three scorers TJ Starks, Wendell Mitchell, and Savion Flagg shoot the ball around the 25% to 33% mark, which is not good by any means. This poor shooting could be a huge advantage for Auburn this Wednesday.
Knowing this information, Auburn should look to force their opponent to shoot the ball from deep. On defense, the Tigers should try their hardest to keep the ball from going inside and put the Aggies into tough positions where they have to shoot the ball. Off the long rebounds, Auburn can look to run in transition and get easy scores or slow the ball down in the halfcourt, either way, more misses for the opponent means more scoring opportunities for Auburn.
There is a chance this strategy could backfire and Texas A&M could go off from downtown, but if their play so far this season is any indicator, there shouldn't be any worries of that scenario happening.
Don't let the away game atmosphere play a role
So far, Auburn has yet to win a game on the road this year.
(No, neutral site wins against Xavier, Arizona, and UAB technically don't count.)
The main reason for the lack of road wins is that the Tigers have not shot well away from Auburn Arena. At home, Auburn shoots 39.4% from behind the arc, but only shoot 30.4% and 29.4% in a neutral site and away games respectively. Auburn, who shoots more threes than any other team in the SEC by a long shot, rely on hitting those shots in order to be successful when the team doesn't shoot well, they are put at risk of being defeated.
Away from home, Auburn has tended to get off to slow starts and put themselves into tough positions for the rest of the game. The key will be to will be to get comfortable in the unfamiliar atmosphere early and not let the opposing crowds get into the Tiger's head because when a team lets the crowd play a factor it can lead to bad shots and decisions galore. The team should also maintain their offensive strategy from the previous game, maintaining good ball movement, remain patient and get the best shot possible.
Auburn is a talented team who has the capability to compete with any team in the country, especially away from home. However, the team will have to get past this road game mental block they currently possess one game at a time, starting Wednesday.
Keep Texas A&M from controlling the rebound battle
I might sound like a broken record, copying a key to the game from last week, but I can't stress enough how important rebounding can be in deciding the outcome of the game. Evidence can be found by looking at the Tiger's last two games.
In the game against Georgia, Auburn outrebounded the Bulldogs 39 to 33 and won by an impressive margin. In the game against Ole Miss, Auburn was outrebounded by the Rebels 45 to 37 and lost by an awful margin. I am not implying that whoever wins the rebound battle wins the game, but what I am implying is that winning the rebounding battle tip the scales in that team's favor, more often than not, leading to wins.
Auburn will have to fight and hustle hard to win the battle of the boards, as Texas A&M comes in averaging 40.4 rebounds a game, second most in the SEC. They also have the conference's third best rebounder, sophomore guard Savion Flagg, averaging 8.2 rebounds a contest. The Tigers will have to keep Flagg and many other Aggies off the boards to give themselves a greater chance to win.
At the end of the day, it comes down to who wants it more when it comes to rebounding, Auburn will need to be ready to display some toughness this Wednesday in College Station to earn their first road win of the year.
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