No. 2 Seed Auburn Popped by 10 Seed Miami, 79-61, Leaving Only Arkansas From The SEC Dancing

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One could hear the sarcastic chants from Miami fans on the television – “SEC … SEC … SEC.”

Or was that – “ACC … ACC … ACC?”

It may have been a little of both. But it didn’t matter, the Southeastern Conference is down to one team. The Atlantic Coast Conference has three – Duke, North Carolina and Miami.

The SEC, billed as one of the best leagues in the nation all season with multiple teams in the top 10 most of the year and Auburn at No. 1 in February, is down to Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament after five of six teams were eliminated in the opening weekend.

No. 2 seed Auburn looked like a double-digit seed in falling to No. 10 seed Miami of the ACC, 79-61, in the second round in Greenville, S.C., Sunday night. It was Auburn’s worst loss since falling 104-80 at LSU on Feb. 20, 2021. It was also the fourth loss in eight games for Auburn (28-6), which won the SEC regular season title at 15-3. Miami finished fourth in the ACC at 14-6.

No. 4 seed Arkansas (27-8) is the SEC’s last hope as it reached the Sweet 16 round on Saturday with a win over New Mexico State, but it must play No. 1 overall seed and top-ranked Gonzaga (28-3) on Thursday in San Francisco.

Miami (25-10) advances to play No. 11 seed Iowa State (22-12) on Friday in Chicago. Iowa State upset No. 3 seed Wisconsin, 54-49, earlier Sunday in Milwaukee.

Auburn All-American sophomore center Walker Kessler, who injured his elbow in a collision with teammate Jaylin Williams in the Tigers’ win over Jacksonville State on Thursday, did not look himself the whole game. And it may have only partly been because of the injury. Miami’s defense kept Kessler out of the paint, and when he was at close range, he couldn’t buy a bucket.

Kessler scored a season-low two points on 0-for-6 shooting with two rebounds after coming in averaging 11.7 points and 8.2 rebounds. He missed most of the first half with two fouls and never got going in the second half. In the final minutes, coach Bruce Pearl took him out of the game for ineffectiveness.

The nation’s blocked shots leader with 4.6 a game, Kessler managed only two.

Auburn star forward Jabari Smith, another All-American, also did not look right as he missed 13 of 16 shots for just 10 points after entering averaging 17 a game. He was 1 of 8 from 3-point range. He did grab 15 rebounds. Guard K.D. Johnson and forward Jaylin Williams led Auburn with 12 points.

“If I knew I probably could’ve prevented it,” Pearl said when asked about Kessler’s and Smith’s lackluster play. “Sometimes when you talk to the losing coach, and he doesn’t have the answers, it’s because I didn’t have the answers (in the game either).”

Miami’s swarming defense swallowed up Kessler and Smith and pushed them out.

“We put in a new defense called the scramble this year, and these guys did it to perfection tonight. Very happy moment,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said.

“They’re just very physical in every catch,” Smith said. “They sent somebody any time I tried to attack or make a move. They just kept bodies on me. They switched every ball screen. So, just made it kind of tough for me.”

Miami’s defense gathered 12 turnovers from Auburn, while the Hurricanes committed only four.

Guard Isaiah Wong led Miami with 21 points, and guard Kameron McGuston added 18 with seven rebounds. Guard Charlie Moore will be going home to Chicago for the next round. He scored 15 points with nine rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

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Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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