Everything is bigger in Texas, and that holds true for tonight’s matchup between two of the top four teams in the Southeastern Conference as the halfway point of league play nears.
The Aggies haven’t been too kind to the Tigers in recent affairs. In both the 2017-18 and 2019-20 championship seasons, Auburn’s only home loss each season came against Texas A&M. In addition, the Aggies started their run to the SEC Tournament Championship game with an upset win over the Tigers last season in Tampa.
As the conference schedule starts to heat up for Auburn, Wednesday night’s showdown will be a real indicator of how far this team has progressed and like previous games for the Tigers, it won’t be for the faint of heart.
“Just like we talked about Mississippi State when they came in, that was going to be a real physical game,” said head coach Bruce Pearl. “This is going to be even more physical, so that’s going to be something that we will have to obviously step up to.”
Defense will be the name of the game for both of these basketball clubs inside of Neville Arena. Auburn had its third consecutive SEC game holding a team to under 23 first-half points, holding South Carolina to 22, LSU to 21, Mississippi State to 22, and earlier in the season, Northwestern to 19.
The defense from Aggieland is no stranger to holding teams to low first-half marks, SEC opponents are averaging 21.7 first-half points against the Aggies, who are limiting opponents to 27.3% from the floor and 22.1% from deep in the first half of play.
“Big, strong, physical team–one of the best rebounding teams in the country,” Pearl said. “We have got three or four great offensive rebounding teams in our league and they rank up right there with any of them — Tennessee or Kentucky. Their guards are great rebounders. Their bigs are big, strong and physical. They’re hard to keep off the boards.”
In order for Auburn to get it going on the offensive end, it starts with its “floor general,” Wendell Green Jr. Last Saturday, led by Green Jr., the Tigers dished out 20 assists in the matchup in Columbia, S.C., the second most this season behind Auburn’s game against Washington (22) on Dec. 21. Green Jr. has averaged 17.8 points per game since the loss in Athens, Ga., along with an Auburn career high 12 assists against the Gamecocks last Saturday.
Texas A&M goes to the free-throw line the second most of any team in the league with an average of 18.4 makes a game, ranking No. 5 nationally, and 24.5 attempts per game, ranking No. 7 nationally.
“They are very athletic, they have got great driving, downhill guards that get to the rim and score — big and strong and physical,” Pearl said. “They get to the foul line. Fourth in the nation, No. 1 in our league in free throws attempted and free throws made.”
Auburn, on the other hand, allows opponents to make it to the charity stripe 24.2 times per game in SEC play and 20.7 times for the entire season.
“Now, our defense has been good, has consistently been pretty good, but that’s going to be something that we’re going to have to do a really good job of us guarding them because we’ll have our challenges scoring,” Pearl said.
One of the mantras of the program since Pearl’s arrival has been “make history,” and the Tigers have done that twice since the last time they’ve been in front of the home crowd in Neville Arena. First, with Gonzaga getting upset at home last week, Wednesday night will be the Tigers' first chance to defend the nation’s longest home winning streak, currently set at 28 straight games.
Auburn also broke a program record with 31 straight weeks ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, a streak that dates back to the preseason of the 2021-22 season.
"Everybody wants to break the record," said Johni Broome. "But we've got to keep doing what we've been doing in order to get it. That streak has been going on for the last two or three years. It's our job to keep it going and keep defending home court."
The Tigers and Aggies are scheduled to tip off at 8:00 p.m. CST tonight from inside Neville Arena. Tonight’s matchup will be televised on the SEC Network and can be heard on the Auburn Sports Network.
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