Contributed by Greg Ostendorf,
Less than 24 hours after an overtime victory to open the season, Auburn suffered its first defeat of 2020-21 with a 90-67 loss to No. 1 Gonzaga on Friday. It was the second of two games in the Fort Myers Tip-Off.
“We were obviously disappointed we didn’t play better,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “Gonzaga had a lot to do with that. Their two great players, (Drew) Timme and (Corey) Kispert, both dominated the game as you would expect. That said, we know a lot more about us now than we did about 24 hours ago. It’s something to build on.”
Sophomore Allen Flanigan paced the Tigers with a career-high 20 points, including 15 in the second half. Coming out of the break, he made back-to-back 3s and then threw down a left-handed slam as he scored the first 10 points for Auburn after halftime.
Flanigan finished 7 of 11 from the field and also pulled down five rebounds.
“I just played to my strengths,” he said. “They tried to shade my left hand, and it gave me room to shoot the ball. You’ve just got to take shots.”
Freshman JT Thor and junior Jamal Johnson joined Flanigan in double figures with 11 points apiece. It was a career high for Thor, who was a perfect 7 of 7 from the free throw line while Johnson knocked down three shots from long range to lead the Auburn bench. As a team, the Tigers held a 25-14 advantage in bench points against Gonzaga.
“These two games have been a lot like practice,” Pearl said. “We’ve got 10 or 11 good players. The cream hasn’t risen to the top because we’ve got really good balance. We’d like to try to find five guys who are a little better than the other five guys, but that has not been the case.”
Freshman Justin Powell added seven points off the bench and led the Tigers with six rebounds and three assists. In Thursday’s win, Powell scored 17 points and pulled down seven boards. He’s only turned the ball over twice in Auburn’s first two games.
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and Corey Kispert led all scorers Friday with 28 and 25, respectively.
The Tigers, who outscored Gonzaga 17-10 over the final eight minutes, will remain in the Sunshine State and travel to UCF for a game Monday.
“We knew we had three games,” Pearl said. “We’ve got another short turnaround. The takeaway (from today) is which team is going to get better more throughout the season? Auburn or Gonzaga? If we continue to get better, we will have a chance to be a competitive team this year. That’s the challenge.”
On Monday night, the Tigers struggled offensively and didn’t have enough firepower to win on the road as they dropped a 63-55 decision to UCF to wrap up a three-game stretch in Florida.
“Defensively I thought our kids played hard. I thought we had a good game plan,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “To hold Central Florida down to 63 points, 37% shooting, turning them over 19 times – I thought we did a really good job there. Offensively, it was a disaster. There’s no other way of putting it. We played much better in Fort Myers than we did tonight.”
The lone bright spot offensively for Auburn was junior guard Jamal Johnson, who finished with a career-high 18 points and made 5 of 12 shots from be
The Tigers got down by as many as 12 early in the second half, but Johnson responded with a 3 to jump start a 5-point possession and swing the momentum back in their favor. Later in the half, he drained another 3 to cut the UCF lead to six. He also added five rebounds and two assists to along with his game-high 18 points.
As a team, though, Auburn struggled shooting the ball. The Tigers shot 32% from the field and just 21% from beyond the arc. They were 8 of 22 from the free throw line.
However, it was Auburn’s effort on the defensive end and on the glass that kept the Tigers in it. They forced 19 turnovers and held UCF to 37% shooting. They also pulled down 19 offensive rebounds and won the rebounding battle, 48-40.
Sophomore Jaylin Williams grabbed a team-high eight rebounds for Auburn and was tied with Justin Powell for second on the team with eight points. Williams also chipped in two assists, two blocks and a steal while Powell finished with seven rebounds, matching his career high. The freshman now has six or more rebounds in each of the team’s first three games.
Fellow freshman Dylan Cardwell, who had yet to score his first collegiate points, finished with six points on 3 of 4 shooting. The 6-foot-11 Cardwell was on the receiving end of an alley-oop dunk from JT Thor in the first half and threw down another dunk to begin the second half.
After spending the past week in Florida, the Tigers (1-2) will return home to make their Auburn Arena debut Friday night against South Alabama.