Auburn forward Dylan Cardwell doesn’t waste his fouls.
There are a few basketball players in the SEC this season who can take over games with their offense. Anthony Black of Arkansas is one. He was in Auburn on Saturday night. Brandon Miller of Alabama is another. He scored 19 against Kentucky earlier in the day. I’m not saying Cardwell is an offensive maven like Black or Miller, but when the game-changers of this league drive the lane against Auburn for the rest of this season, and actually walk away without a limp or busted lip, then they should all thanks mr. Cardwell by his family name for not dropping them on the ones stitched across their backs.
No.22 Auburn might not be pretty like last season, but the Tigers served notice on Saturday night with their beautiful 72-59 roughneck victory against No.13 Arkansas that opponents are going to earn their buckets with a side of pain and maybe a little paint on the uniforms from here on out.
“They were never able to effectively attack,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “Simple.”
Such a wonderful euphemism, coach, for the bruising reality Auburn inflicted on an Arkansas team that’s led by some great finishers at the rim. Take Auburn’s Cardwell, for example. He only played 10 minutes, but he made them count more than any amount of offense by Arkansas. Cardwell picked up two fouls during his time on the court, but they were each so devastating that officials went to the video review monitors both times to determine if the common fouls should be upgraded to the flagrant variety.
Nope. Just good, clean fun inside The Jungle.
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What should opponents know when they drive to the basket against Dylan Cardwell? I asked Auburn’s Wendell Green Jr. that exact question after the game.
It’s “not safe,” he said. “They’re going to get whooped up.”
Such a pure, uncut gem of truth. That’s Auburn basketball at its best whether there’s a first-rounder on the roster this season or not.
Auburn sent Arkansas to the line 32 times. The Razorbacks only made 19 free throws.
“They really showed me something tonight,” Pearl said. “The bounce-back, the quick turnaround, played great from the start.”
Here’s something I don’t think enough people appreciate about Pearl as a coach. Yes, he’s gregarious. Yes, he’s a great recruiter. Yes, he has scratched out a little piece of college basketball heaven on a speck of road in Auburn that’s literally named Heisman Drive. Ask yourself this. How many times have you found yourself saying, “Man, Pearl’s team really came out flat today?”
It doesn’t happen much at all, and if it does then no way it’s going to happen two games in a row. Rare are the days when Auburn comes out looking like a team stuck in the mud. That’s not luck or by accident or because of some mysterious cosmic force. It’s great coaching. On this night, Auburn started things off with a four-point play by Green, and after that Arkansas was playing catch up all game.
Down season for Auburn (12-3, 2-1 in the SEC), you say? Still pretty great. This game did not have a single change of the lead from the opening seconds, and the score was never even tied. The Tigers led the whole way against a team that is going to be penciled deep in the NCAA Tournament on a lot of brackets.
“You guys have seen us play all fall, and we needed that,” Pearl said, opening up with reporters in his postgame news conference. “I think everyone here would agree. Could you have expected it?”
Uhh, going to answer that one in the affirmative, coach. To play off a euphemism, we’ve seen your positive interactions with highly motivated student-athletes for more than a minute.
“Probably one of the Top 5 wins I’ve had at home at Neville Arena,” Pearl said. “It was an important win. I’m very proud of the kids. It was a great team effort.”
Top 5? Well, maybe only because it came on the same day that Alabama clobbered Kentucky by 26 points over Coleman.
Is Auburn the favorite to win the SEC regular-season championship this season? Probably not. It’s No. 7 Alabama (13-2, 3-0 in the SEC) at this point, but I’m still not picking anyone to win at Neville Arena. Don’t get me wrong. Alabama is great, but Auburn has won 27 in a row at home. It’s so many consecutive victories that the building where it all went down has had two different names and the football stadium across the street has introduced three different head coaches.
It was Auburn Arena when the streak started and now they call their little shop of horrors Neville Arena because the stuff that grows so wild inside The Jungle inspired a guy who isn’t even an Auburn graduate to donate a preposterous amount of money.
The Tigers entered this weekend with questions after losing at Georgia. That was a tough game against a rival, but quality wins can mean more in this sport at the end of the season than any loss. Auburn answered all that with what looks like the best victory for any SEC team to begin conference play.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A season of hope and the making of Nick Saban’s ‘ultimate team'”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.