After their loss to the Aggies on Wednesday, the Tigers look to rebound this weekend as they take part in the SEC-Big 12 Conference Challenge where they will travel to face the West Virginia Mountaineers.
“I like the series. I like this format,” said head coach Bruce Pearl. “Auburn has held its own in this series. We’ve been in it and we’ve had some really good wins for the league. This will be a real challenge in Morgantown.”
The Mountaineers are riding a two-game win streak and are one of the top 30 ranked teams in the NET. The No. 15 Auburn Tigers' 28-game home streak ended Wednesday night against the Texas A&M Aggies.
The Tigers ended their night against the Aggies with 13 turnovers and lost six points off turnovers. Auburn struggled behind the arc, shooting just 19% (3-of-16) from three. The Tigers made the shots but the ball was not finding the bottom of the net.
Wendell Green Jr. and Johni Broome led the team with 16 points, respectively. The junior guard had four field goals, one three-point field goal, and seven free throws. The sophomore forward had six field goals and four free throws. Broome also had seven rebounds and blocks, once again leading the Tigers.
Broome is no stranger to this Mountaineers team, as this will be his second time facing them. The first came when he was at Morehead State, facing the Mountaineers in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament in what was ultimately a loss for the Eagles.
“West Virginia is an older team, you know, with them being veteran-type guys,” Zep Jasper said. “We want to change our game plan this week. Sometimes you need a loss to humble you to get over the hump and just regroup.”
Following Broome and Green’s performance against the Aggies, Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan each had eight points: three field goals and two free throws. Williams had a season-high of seven assists, and Jasper scored a season-high of six points: four three-point attempts and two three-pointers made.
“You look at West Virginia, and you look at Texas A&M and you see a lot of similarities,” Pearl said. “Tough, physical, hard-nosed, interestingly this year (head coach Bob Huggins') team is better offensively than it maybe is defensively...They play the right way.”
In recent years of this SEC-Big 12 Challenge, the Tigers have played Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma. The Tigers came out on top in two of those three matchups — against the Cyclones (80-76) and the Sooners (86-68). Their one loss was against Baylor (72-84) during the COVID-adjusted 2021 year where Baylor ended up winning the national championship.
Auburn and West Virginia’s matchup is tied 2-2 going all the way back to 1984. The last time the Tigers and the Mountaineers played was Dec. 5, 2007 in Birmingham, Ala. when West Virginia pulled out an 88-59 win over Auburn.
“They turn you over 15 times a game," Pearl said. "They have great ball pressure and make it hard for you to run your offense.”
West Virginia has an older, more experienced team than Auburn, adding six transfers to their roster this season and opening games with five seniors in the starting lineup. Pearl specifically mentioned fifth-year guard Erik Stevenson.
Last year, Stevenson was the leading scorer at South Carolina. The veteran guard averages 13.1 points per game this season, shooting 44% from the field and 76% from the free throw line. Another top scorer for the Mountaineers, senior guard Tre Mitchell averages 29 points a game.
The Mountaineers are strong at the free throw line, sitting at No. 11 nationally for free throw attempts and No. 12 in the nation for free throws made per game.
Both Tre Donaldson and Pearl mentioned the importance of routine when going to a place they haven’t gone to before, emphasizing that the unfamiliarity was not something the team would take time to consider.
"As a freshman, I’m not really new to it, but our biggest thing is nothing will change,” Donaldson said. “We got to be the same Auburn that we know how to be and attack it the same way we do everything else.”
A win in the West Virginia Coliseum would be a big resume boost for the Tigers' NCAA Tournament seeding and give them some confidence heading into the final stretch of SEC play.
“This is probably the toughest twelve game stretch I’ve had in my career,” said Pearl. “But at the same time, it’s an incredible opportunity.”
The Tigers tip-off against the Mountaineers at 11 a.m. CST on Saturday inside WVU Coliseum. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and can be heard on the Auburn Sports Network.
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Caitlyn Griffin is a freshman from Huntsville, Ala. majoring in journalism. She started with The Plainsman in fall 2022.
William Halliday started with The Plainsman in fall 2022. He is a journalism major from Memphis, Tennessee.