Behind a flurry of dunks and another career game by Jabari Smith, Auburn handled Syracuse 89-68 to take fifth place in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Friday.
"For us at Auburn to have an opportunity to play against a historic program like Syracuse, you just don't get chances like that very often,” said head coach Bruce Pearl. “I think we got a lot better. Can we build on it now? That is the question."
Smith led all scorers in Auburn’s dominant performance against the Orange, tying his career-high in points with 22. Smith scored 58 points total during Auburn’s three-game run in the tournament, leading the team with 22 points twice.
"Between Jabari (Smith) and Jaylin Williams, we have the best power forwards in the country,” Pearl said.
On the day, Auburn had nine total dunks, with most of them coming on alley-oop lobs. Walker Kessler and Devan Cambridge both pulled off behind-the-back dunks on the way to arguably Auburn’s most convincing win of the year.
K.D. Johnson was second on the team in scoring, continuing his break-out performance in The Bahamas. Johnson had 15 points and five steals. In the tournament, Johnson had 14 total steals for an average of 4.7 steals per game.
“He had so many steals that security here in The Bahamas was concerned about all that he was stealing,” Pearl said with a laugh.
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Johnson had a huge impact on defense, yet again, in stopping Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim and Cole Swider. Swider and Boeheim shot a combined 8-for-23 against the Auburn defense.
Auburn again forced its opponent into turning the ball over, creating 15 turnovers against the Orange.
Auburn forced Loyola-Chicago into 18 turnovers and No. 22 UConn into 24.
In what attributes to those crazy steal numbers, Pearl gave all the credit to Johnson, even comparing Johnson to the local Bahamian wildlife.
"K.D. is a playmaker, he is aggressive. He has a feel for when a guy needs some help. He is kind of like a shark. When he sees that blood in the water, he goes out and gets it,” Pearl said.
Auburn played a complete game overall, scoring left, right, and sometimes backward against the Orange. Pearl took his bench 12 men deep against Jim Boeheim and crew, with his bench accounting for 33 total points. Lior Berman had six points and Preston Cook hit a three with under a minute to go.
“Our bench was terrific. When our 11th or 10th man is out there balling, it gives you great confidence,” Pearl said.
Auburn went 2-1 in the tournament, dropping a double-overtime game to No. 22 UConn in the team’s first matchup. Auburn has a quick turnaround to the team’s next game in five days with UCF. Smith said his team is better than when they started.
"Mentally, we are in a good place. I know we got better through the losses and the wins,” Smith said.
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