No. 1 Auburn survived an upset scare from lowly Georgia on Saturday before escaping with a 74-72 win after the Tigers fell behind in the final minute. In the end, a layup from Auburn point guard Wendell Green Jr. put the Tigers ahead 74-72 with three seconds left after a potential go-ahead 3-pointer from Georgia's Noah Baumann bounced off with 13 seconds remaining in regulation.
Green and Georgia's Jaxon Etter collided on the shot in a sequence that frequently draws a block-or-charge judgment call from the officials. There was no whistle, however, and play proceeded with Green banking in the shot. Georgia called a timeout to set up a final shot attempt, but the final desperation heave missed and the Tigers (22-1, 10-0 SEC) escaped to extend their winning streak to 19 games.
Auburn's freshman phenom Jabari Smith finished with just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting, and the Tigers were playing without starting point guard Zep Jasper, who missed the game due to illness. Guards K.D. Johnson and Green combined for 39 points for Auburn but made just 13 of 39 shots as the Tigers struggled to score during the second half.
After leading by 15 in the first half, the Tigers allowed Georgia to mount a furious second-half comeback as Kario Oquendo poured in 25 points for the Bulldogs (6-17, 1-9 SEC). Georgia entered at No. 215 in the NET and was just beaten by 26 points at home by Arkansas on Wednesday. Auburn, meanwhile, has been enjoying its first-ever No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 and just crushed Alabama by 19 points on Tuesday.
Wendell Green Jr. went coast-to-coast for the go-ahead bucket to win the game for No. 1 Auburn 🤯 pic.twitter.com/eT7ULkFzjQ— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 5, 2022
But the Bulldogs showed in a surprising 82-76 win over Alabama on Jan. 25 that they can be dangerous on their home floor, and Auburn certainly learned that lesson Saturday.
Jabari Smith's quiet day
This marks twice in the past four games for Auburn that Smith has made just two attempts from the floor, and on both occasions the Tigers nearly lost on the road against lower-tier league competition. The first instance came on Jan. 25 at Missouri, when Smith went 2 of 15 and finished with seven points in a 55-54 Auburn win.
In the two games since then entering Saturday's tilt, the 6-10 superstar bounced back with performances of 23 and 17 points, respectively, in games Auburn won by double-digits against quality foes Oklahoma and Alabama. So while it is impressive that Auburn can win on the road against SEC competition when its star player struggles, it's also clear that the Tigers need Smith to be effective if they are going sniff the ceiling of a typical No. 1 team.
Crean's last stand
Fourth-year Georgia coach Tom Crean is on the hot seat, as Matt Norlander explained in this week's dribble handoff. After Saturday's result, Georgia is just 15-49 in SEC games over his tenure. But a victory over a top-ranked rival combined with UGA's earlier upset of Alabama would have given Crean at least some momentum.
As it stands, it's hard to see a close loss doing much to swing things in Crean's favor. His predecessor, Mark Fox, was fired after an 18-15 season in 2017-18, and Crean has yet to reach that number of victories. Last season's 14-12 (7-11 SEC) mark was Georgia's best under Crean, and it would take an absolutely miraculous turnaround for this team to even sniff seven league victories.
Auburn and Gonzaga tied for No. 1 in the Coaches Poll this week with both teams receiving 16 first-place votes. The Tigers' 49-12 edge on Gonzaga for No. 1 in the AP Top 25 seems safe, but it will be interesting to see if Saturday's struggles swing things back in Gonzaga's favor in the Coaches Poll.