It’s the tale of Smokin’ J.J. Frazier…
The Dawgs picked up a huge win without their best inside threat – Yante Maten – largely due to another great performance from little big man (or is that big little man) JJ Frazier, who scored 31 pts, had 6 rebs and dished out 5 assists. JJ’s effort almost went for naught when he made a poor pass for a turnover late in the game. Fortunately, Auburn could not get a good shot in their last possession, and the Dawgs held on. After the game, Frazier said, “I love this school, man. Words can’t describe how much this means to me, and how much of my heart and soul I put into this university.” How can you not love this guy??
As the Dawgs were focused on Senior Night, honoring the four seniors (Frazier, Geno, Kessler and Young) and sending them out on a winning note at home, the Tigers jumped out to a 16 point lead. But the guys battled back to within 7 pts at the half and jumped on Auburn early in the second half. The Tigers’ shooters kept it close, but JJ put the Dawgs up 6 with 2 free throws 79-73 with 1:13 to play. Five seconds later the Tiger’s Danjel Purifoy hit a 3 pointer to pull them to within 3 points. Two free throws by Purifoy pulled Auburn to within 1 point, but they could not get a good final shot for the win.
Lest it seem that JJ won the game all by himself, Derek Ogbeide had 10 points to go with 15 big rebounds (many of which came against Auburn’s big 5 star freshman center Austin Wiley), Tyree Crump had 10 points on 4-5 shooting, and Juwan Parker had 8 points and 8 rebounds. Even freshman Jordan Harris returned from (ahem) injury (or was it double secret probation?) to score 5 points in 6 minutes.
Amazingly, the Dawgs have won 3 in a row since losing Yante against UK. While you never want to lose one of your two best players, is it possible that Maten’s injury could be a blessing in disguise, as other players are being forced to contribute to get these wins? If Maten is able to come back for the SEC tournament (and I heard that he practiced a bit yesterday), the team could be stronger for the experience.
Following the game, Fox observed, “We didn’t start the game well. Obviously with Senior Day and the emotion, we were a mess and give Auburn credit, they came to play. Once we started getting back to our competitive selves, we did some important things. We only turned the ball over two times in the second half. We make 10 3-point baskets and we shoot 90-percent from the line, only missing one. We did some fundamental things to give ourselves the win and in the second half we rebounded the ball much better. Every key area we need to check a lot of boxes off. Auburn had a very offensive team but we really had to scrap to win it and I feel really good for our team.”
Fox wasn’t kidding about Auburn’s team – Pearl has them pretty loaded with individual talent. But they started 4 freshmen and 1 sophomore, and it shows at times. There are times when they are tremendous offensively, repeatedly beat you off the dribble and hit tons of 3s. Then there are times when they become impatient, forget to play together and try to make fancy plays when simple ones will do. Tonight, there was enough Tiger immaturity and enough JJ Frazier for the Dawgs to pull out a win, improving to 18-12 on the season (9-8 in the SEC).