Rushed Reactions: #5 Clemson 84, #4 Auburn 53

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Clemson Will Not Soon Forget This Performance (USA Today Images)

  1. Sheer Dominance. Not even the #1 vs. #16 match-ups earlier this weekend were this lopsided. Chalk it up to Clemson’s outstanding defense combined with Auburn’s inept offense, but the point remains that a run that started with a 13-13 tie at the 12-minute mark of the first half became a 40-point lead 20 minutes later. FORTY. Not even Cincinnati can blow that kind of advantage. The statistics are marvelous in their ugliness (e.g., Auburn’s 26 percent shooting), but the key stretch was really the last 10 minutes of the first half when Auburn missed 18 consecutive shots while giving up 25 points in a series of layups and three-pointers on the other end. It was a blitzkrieg, magnificent in its efficiency and domination. And it propelled Clemson to the Sweet Sixteen for just the fourth time ever.
  2. Is Clemson Good? Obviously, yes, but just how good? Today’s victory was a real eye-opener for a lot of people wondering if the Tigers were capable of making a deep run. New Mexico State was a trendy upset pick on Friday, and Clemson manhandled the Aggies without too much concern. Today’s game was 32 minutes of curb-stomping. The question with Clemson has never been with its defense, which ranks among the top 10 in college basketball this season, but rather whether they had enough play-makers to get past the likes of elite programs. Their best win this season was over North Carolina in Littlejohn Arena, but it they lost relatively close games to Duke and Virginia (the ACC Tournament game). The Tigers may get their chance to prove themselves in the Midwest Regional next weekend, as Kansas awaits next followed by ACC brethren Duke or Syracuse. In a ball-control kind of game where the shots aren’t falling (a typical Jayhawks loss scenario), it wouldn’t be impossible to see Clemson advance two more rounds just like its Palmetto State rival from a season ago.
  3. Auburn Still Had a Great Season. No team likes to go out of the NCAA Tournament like Auburn did today, but sometimes the forces align and there’s not much a team can do to manage the buzzsaw. Still, Bruce Pearl put together a fantastic season that included a first-place finish in the SEC (the Tigers were projected ninth in the preseason by SEC media), the school’s first NCAA appearance (and win) in 15 years and a buzz that had been missing around the basketball program for a very long time. Depending on how the FBI thing shakes out, Auburn is poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for years to come — only hopefully with better performances than the Tigers gave today.

Player of the Game. Elijah Thomas, Clemson. Thomas set the tone in the first half with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting as the Tigers simply overwhelmed the other Tigers. He finished with a highly-efficient 18 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of assists on 7-of-10 shooting. But really, the entire Clemson team was the player of tonight’s game.


  • “I think it’s a statement game. I think we showed how hard we can compete defensively.” — Clemson guard Marquise Reed, describing his team’s performance tonight.
  • “Nobody is going to know how I am. It’s like coaching the ACC. I don’t look down at the other end when we’re coaching. That’s not good for my mental health.” — Clemson head coach Brad Brownell, describing his company in the coaching department at the regionals.
  • “I really have to go back and look on film to see exactly what happened. I really don’t know where we lost our focus at. All I can honestly remember is that they came down.” — Auburn’s Bryce Brown, on Clemson’s debilitating run in the first half.
  • “As of Sunday afternoon there were 20-something teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament and Auburn was one of them. This is where we want our basketball program. I have no seniors. No seniors! We’re the second youngest team in the SEC behind Kentucky. I feel good about the foundation of our program.” — Auburn’s Bruce Pearl, discussing how this year’s Tigers laid a strong foundation for the future.

Sights and Sounds. It was fortuitous that the last minute of the Cincinnati vs. Nevada game came during halftime of this one so that NCAA brass could show the entire ending to the assembled crowd. When Nevada hit the go-ahead basket with nine seconds remaining to take a two-point lead, the entire crowd cheered in unison. When Cincinnati then frittered away its final possession, the crowd roared for the underdog to advance. Very fun atmosphere in an otherwise very boring evening at Viejas Arena.

What’s Next. Clemson advances to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in school history and the first time since 1997, where the Tigers are 1-2. They will face #1 Kansas on Friday night in Omaha, in a quasi-home court advantage undoubtedly filled with Jayhawks’ fans. Auburn can take solace in a season far better than anyone expected, as Pearl continues to build his program there on The Plains.

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