AUBURN — Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl knows the value of a strong fan base, but he’s not naïve.
He knows that during his team’s 28-game home winning streak, no spell was cast on Neville Arena to prevent opponents from emerging victorious. The fans, particularly The Jungle, give the Tigers a fearsome environment, but wins or losses are determined by what happens on the court, not the seats around the hardwood.
“This environment will not recover for us,” Pearl said on Tuesday. “And it won’t fire any shots.”
That was certainly true of Auburn’s 79-63 loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday, the first loss the Tigers suffered inside the walls of Neville Arena in nearly two years. The last time Auburn lost a home game was on February 23, 2021 to Florida, over 700 days ago.
The Tigers took an early eight-point lead but were beaten 43-20 to end the first half. After Zep connected Jasper with a 3 before the break at 7:02, Auburn (16-4, 6-2 SEC) had just two points left before the break.
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THE LOSS:Auburn basketball falls to Texas A&M, 28-game winning streak snapped at home
“I hate it when I’m right,” Pearl said of his comments about the environment. “We did a good job of keeping them off the boards but they took so many shots that there weren’t that many misses. We didn’t flip them enough. And we definitely didn’t fire enough shots.
“(I) really hadn’t thought about it. We haven’t lost at home in a couple of years, I guess. So obviously not used to it. Lost to a good side that played really well. They were better tonight, it was pretty clear.”
That’s it easy. The Aggies (14-6, 6-1) were better than the Tigers. But they succeeded in doing so, at least in part in an atypical way.
Texas A&M came into the matchup at 31.5% from 3-point range and Auburn came out with the second-best 3-point defense in the country. The Aggies should have shot poorly but that wasn’t the case early on as they hit six of their first nine attempts from deep to build a lead that proved insurmountable.
The Tigers lost and were outplayed in the process, but that shouldn’t be overstated.
“Texas A&M is a really, really good team. I think they are one of the top four teams in our league. … They played really well,” Pearl said. “I’m not upset about the loss because we were beaten tonight. They played great.”
However, the loss puts even more pressure on Auburn to take care of business at home. Pearl has spoken ad nauseam about how hard it is to get road wins, especially in the SEC. It’s all the more important to win at Neville Arena.
Auburn still has home games against No. 2 Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ole Miss and No. 4 Tennessee. Topping the Vols or the Crimson Tide is a tough one, but beating the other three is far from a necessity at this point, especially with away games to come.
The Tigers travel to Morgantown to play West Virginia (12-8, 2-6 B12) on Wednesday (11am CT, ESPN). The Mountaineers are 8-3 at home despite a below-par conference record. Auburn is also tasked with visiting Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt before the regular season concludes.
Winning at home, maybe even stealing one from Alabama or Tennessee, and getting a few games on the road will be key to a strong finish from Auburn. So next time the Tigers take the floor at home, don’t think about the 28-game streak they no longer own.
You should think about starting another one and recreating some of that imaginary magic.
Richard Silva is the Auburn Athletics Beat Writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @rich_silva18.