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Friday, Dec 8, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Auburn heads to Music City, attempting to take down blazing Vanderbilt

Auburn basketball heads north to Nashville, Tennessee, attempting to conquer a hot Vanderbilt team that’s won four in a row. 

The Tigers and Commodores most recently faced off last season in Neville Arena. Auburn won that contest 94-80, with former Tigers and NBA Rising Stars Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler exploding for 31 and 22 points, respectively. Auburn attempts to extend its series win streak to six, while Vanderbilt looks to improve its home record against the Tigers, holding a 51-18 record when the two teams play in Memorial Arena.

“Auburn's history with Vanderbilt has been — Vanderbilt's had a pretty sizable advantage, particularly at Memorial,” said head coach Bruce Pearl. “I know when we won there in 2018-19, we hadn't won at Vanderbilt in about 20 years. So it's been a tough place, historically.”

Auburn (18-8, 8-5 SEC) is coming off a commanding performance against Missouri, defeating Mizzou 89-56. Auburn blistered the net from behind the arc, shooting 50% from three-point range en route to its second highest point total in SEC play. Sophomore Johni Broome took control of the game, scoring a game-high 20 points and nabbing a game-high 10 rebounds. Auburn dominated on the defensive end as well, holding Missouri to its second-lowest point total of the season and the second best three-point shooting team in the SEC to a measly 22.7% shooting from beyond the arc.

“We set a goal in the first half to not let them score more than 30,” said senior Allen Flanigan. “Play defense, and just guard with that defense all the time.”

Vanderbilt (14-12, 7-6 SEC) is playing its best basketball of the season, coming off a four-game SEC win streak, including a 66-65 victory over No. 10 Tennessee and defeating South Carolina 75-64 on the road in its last game. The Commodores are averaging 71.4 points per game, ranking ninth in the SEC and 159th nationally. While Vanderbilt is towards the bottom of the league in points per game, it lights up the nets from deep, shooting 32.8% from three-point range – good for sixth in the SEC.

“Vanderbilt, really good offensive team… they shoot a good percentage from three,” Pearl said. “Coach Stackhouse spent a lot of time in the NBA as a player and a coach, so he's got great sets and they run great pieces, and he'll put four or five guys on the court at a time who can shoot the ball.”

Senior forward Liam Robbins leads the Commodores in scoring, averaging 14.7 points per game – good for 10th in the SEC. The forward out of Davenport, Iowa, also leads Vanderbilt in rebounds and blocks, averaging 6.6 rebounds and three blocks per game.

“Liam Robbins is one of the best centers in the league,” Pearl said. “Leads the league in blocked shots, is a tough one-on-one cover down in the post. Big, strong, physical player. Older player.”

The Commodores give up 71.7 points per game, ranking 10th in the SEC and 232nd nationally. Contributing to Vanderbilt's low defense ranking is its inability to get turnovers, averaging 4.9 steals per game – dead last in the SEC. Despite the struggle on the other end of the floor, the Commodores are efficient at grabbing boards and blocking shots, averaging 37.1 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game – ranking fifth and sixth in the SEC, respectively. 

Auburn and Vanderbilt tip off from Memoria Arena Saturday at 7:30 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

Donavan Weaver | Sports Writer

Donavan Weaver is a senior at Auburn, majoring in journalism. He is from Brewton, Ala. and started with The Plainsman in fall 2022.

Twitter: @donavanweaver21

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