Auburn men’s basketball starts slow, falls to UCF
ORLANDO, Fla. – It was a strong effort defensively from Auburn on Monday night. But 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 percent 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 beyond the arc. The Tigers got down by as many as 12 early in the second half, but Johnson responded with a 3 to jumpstart 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 percent from the field and just 21 percent 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 percent 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.
“It will be good to get this team back home,” Pearl said. “Maybe we’ll play better at home just from the familiarity of it. It’s going to be a great weekend at Auburn with the Texas A&M football game on Saturday. South Alabama gave us all we wanted a year ago.”