The fans can’t get out there and rebound, Bruce Pearl likes to say.
Getting back home isn’t going to solve all his team’s problems after two straight losses on the road. The alums in the stands can’t make stops on defense, and the student section can’t put the ball in the basket.
But Auburn Arena will probably try to do everything else that it can.
Auburn basketball is in a rut. And ‘The Jungle’ is desperate to help dig the team out of it.
Auburn (22-4 overall, 8-4 SEC) hosts Tennessee (15-11, 7-6) at 11 a.m. today on the Plains, coming off back-to-back disappointments on the road at Missouri and at Georgia, and now coming home to try to reverse the trend before the all-important postseason.
Freshman star Isaac Okoro returned to practice for the team in a limited capacity on Thursday, though Pearl said Friday that his status for the game is still “pending.” Auburn lost both the games it’s started since Okoro went down with injury late in the team’s last win against Alabama. His absence has proven critical.
But Auburn’s home-court advantage has proven itself formidable in big Saturday showdowns this season against Kentucky and LSU, and with the fans at their backs, the Tigers have their chance to get back to their winning ways today before the losing skid gets any worse.
Auburn is still undefeated at home this season, a perfect 14-0.
“Clearly we’ve played better at home,” Pearl said Friday. “But The Jungle’s not going to put the ball in the basket for us.
“We’ve got to do it ourselves.”
Pearl spoke as his team geared up for a Tennessee team that has excelled on defense this season, boasting the SEC’s best mark in scoring defense by giving up just 62.1 points per game, and leading the conference in blocked shots.
Auburn, meanwhile, struggled on offense in a 65-55 loss at Georgia on Wednesday the last time out, and in general in its last two losses has had a tough time finding scoring without Okoro outside its usual scorers: seniors Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick and Austin Wiley. All three scored in double figures in both those games, but nobody else for Auburn did it in either. Against Georgia, the rest of the team combined for just seven points outside of those three players.
Auburn also only hit just 11.6-percent of its 3-pointers in those games — but Doughty brought that back around to the difference between playing on the road and at home when he spoke to the media on Friday.
“A lot of players that have been missing, including me, it’s been on the road — and it’s a lot of freshmen that’s trying to step into that role of Isaac,” Doughty said. “I mean, freshmen typically play better at home than on the road, so that’s something that we’re not really surprised about.
“But we have to make those shots because we’re getting open looks and we’re getting great playcalls to get us open looks, so we have to capitalize on the shots that we’re getting.”
Yes, all three of the SEC games that freshman Devan Cambridge has hit doubles figure in this season were played at home. Auburn would hope for Cambridge, Allen Flanigan or Jaylin Williams to bring more production if Okoro remains limited.
And as always, it has to help any slumping shooter to be playing back in his home gym.
But as Pearl says, the home-court advantage isn’t going to win the game by itself — and Auburn still faces a tough matchup against defensive-minded Tennessee.
“They’re still a great defensive team, well-coached team,” Doughty said, comparing the group to last year’s star-studded team that Auburn met in the SEC Tournament finals. “They’re really good at blocking shots, so we’ve got to make sure we’re playing off of two, hitting the open man and just making the smart plays. They lost a few players from last year, which are players in the NBA, but they’re still a terrific team capable of beating anybody, even on our home court.
“We’ve got to respect our opponent and lock in.”
The game marks Auburn’s third-to-last home game this season. Auburn will then continue its season Tuesday at home against Ole Miss.