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Hoops Report: The luck you make, the luck you don’t

Damn you, Dee Bost.

Mississippi St. 85, Auburn 75, OT

Most of basketball’s serious statistical wonks maintain that as much as sports fans (and coaches, and players, etc.) want to point to “poise” or “big plays” or “coming through in the clutch,” what truly decides the victor in a one-possession game is luck. Just luck. Luck alone.

This is a comforting thought after a game like Saturday’s, when there’s no question that of the two teams, Auburn was the least lucky. A player entering the game on a 5-for-34 shooting slump from three hitting 7-of-12 is bad luck. A pair of competent 3-point shooters of Auburn’s in Frankie Sullivan and Lucas Hargrove simultaneously hitting a combined 2-for-11 is bad luck. A 68 percent foul-shooting team like the Bulldogs hitting their final 11 attempts of the game (7 in regulation) is bad luck. Having the officials call a phantom foul on Auburn that handed the home team a critical extra point before an ignoring a pathetically obvious  foul on Mississippi St. two possessions later that should have given Auburn the game is some serious, serious bad luck.

But when you’re Auburn, and you’re already in the hole you’re in, you can’t afford to rely on luck. You can’t afford to let it come down to one official’s call or one shot. You have to push the lead to two possessions. You have to make your own luck.

The Tigers had their chances to do that late in the game Saturday. Three times in the final three minutes of regulation, Auburn scored and took a three-point lead. One stop out of the three following opportunities and Auburn would have had the game by the throat.

All three times, Auburn was called for a foul. The last of the three was a questionable call, but the other two? A failure to secure an offensive rebound, and the next time down a completely idiotic hack after the State player had picked up his dribble just inside the arc. Result: four free throws, all made, and when Auburn gave up a fast break dunk the other way a couple possessions later, all chance to make this a game that luck wouldn’t decide was gone.

It was this Auburn season in microcosm: opportunity knocking, the door opened for just one hopeful moment before being slammed in its face. Auburn has not been a lucky team, for the most part. (Kenpom rates Auburn as the second-unluckiest team in the SEC.)  But they have also been steadfast in their refusal to make the luck they’ve needed.


Other thoughts:

— Big picture, I’m not sure this was so bad a loss. The path to the NIT is still a sweep at home–which Auburn has to be favored to do, having either defeated or taken to overtime on the road all three home opponents–and at least one win on the road. Two road wins would have been even better, but that one win is looking more likely than ever if the Tigers continue being this competitive away from Beard-Eaves. Given that Ole Miss wasn’t as competitive in Starkville as Auburn was and that Florida just lost by double-digits at home, I’d say that every one of Auburn’s six remaining games is winnable. The breakthrough should happen.

— I’ll give Auburn this: they’re not taking as many “What are you thinking?” threes as they were earlier in the season. Most of the shots they took Saturday were good ones. The problem is that they just don’t have anyone aside from Waller who can shoot consistently. I hate to pick on Dewayne Reed–his 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio was solid–but he’s now shooting 29 percent (15-of-64) from deep in SEC play. Unless Auburn’s late in the shot clock, there’s just no reason for him to take a 3 over driving to the basket.

— Given how badly Auburn shot, that their turnover-centric defense only forced 8 giveaways, and that the Bulldogs held a big advantage at the free-throw line, it’s kind of stunning Auburn was even able to take the game into overtime. That’s what only committing eight turnovers yourself will do for you.

Arkansas 73, Auburn women 58; LSU 75, Auburn 51

Well, at least we’ve hit rock bottom here. Once you’ve lost by 15 points at home to a team that came in with a 1-9 SEC record, there’s officially nowhere to go but up.

It’s disappointing, especially after seeing this team play the way they played on the road at LSU, at home against Georgia. But we all knew this was going to be a rebuilding season. We’ll see next year how well Fortner has rebuilt. This year? It’s more-or-less already behind us.

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