Auburn basketball's 2-year home winning streak is over. Why Tigers can't afford to sulk
AUBURN — Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl knows the value of a strong fan base, but he isn't naive.
He knows there's not some magical spell that was placed on Neville Arena during his team's 28-game home winning streak that disallowed opponents to leave as winners. The fans, specifically The Jungle, give the Tigers a feared environment, but wins or losses are determined by what happens on the court, not in the seats surrounding the hardwood.
"That environment’s not going to rebound for us," Pearl said Tuesday. "And it’s not going to make shots."
That certainly held true in Auburn's 79-63 loss against Texas A&M on Wednesday, the first defeat the Tigers suffered inside the walls of Neville Arena in nearly two years. The last time Auburn dropped a home game was against Florida on Feb. 23, 2021, more than 700 days ago.
The Tigers jumped out to an early eight-point lead but were outscored 43-20 to finish the first half. After Zep Jasper connected on a 3-pointer with 7:02 until the break, Auburn (16-4, 6-2 SEC) scored just two more points before halftime.
RECRUITING:Auburn basketball signee Aden Holloway named to 2023 McDonald's All-American Game
THE LOSS:Auburn basketball falls to Texas A&M, 28-game home winning streak snapped
"I hate when I'm right," Pearl said of his comments about the environment. "We did a decent job of keeping them off the boards, but they made so many shots that there weren't that many misses. We didn't turn them over enough. And we definitely didn't make enough shots.
"(I) really hadn't thought about that. We haven't lost at home I guess now in a couple years. So, obviously, not used to it. Lost to a good team that played really well. They were better tonight, it was pretty clear."
That's just it. The Aggies (14-6, 6-1) were better than the Tigers. But they accomplished that in an uncharacteristic way, at least in part.
Texas A&M came into the matchup shooting 31.5% from 3-point range and Auburn entered with the second-best 3-point defense in the country. The Aggies should've shot poorly, but that wasn't the case early as they hit six of their first nine attempts from deep to build what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
The Tigers lost, and they got outplayed along the way, but this shouldn't be blown out of proportion.
"Texas A&M is a really, really good team. I think they're one of the top four teams in our league. ... They played really well," Pearl said. "Like, I'm not upset about the loss, because we got beat tonight. They played great."
The loss does, however, put some more pressure on Auburn to take care of business at home down the stretch. Pearl has spoken ad nauseam about how road victories are tough to come by, especially in the SEC. That makes winning in Neville Arena even more important.
Auburn has home games left against No. 2 Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ole Miss and No. 4 Tennessee. Topping the Vols or the Crimson Tide is a tough ask, but beating the three others is all but a necessity at this point, especially with the upcoming slate of away games.
The Tigers travel to Morgantown to play West Virginia (12-8, 2-6 Big 12) on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ESPN). The Mountaineers, despite a subpar conference record, are 8-3 at home. Auburn is also tasked with visiting Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt before the regular season comes to a close.
Winning at home, maybe even stealing one from Alabama or Tennessee, and taking a couple of games on the road will be the key to Auburn finishing strong. So, next time the Tigers take the floor at Neville Arena, they shouldn't think about the 28-game streak they no longer own.
They should think about beginning another and recreating some of that imaginary magic.
Richard Silva is the Auburn athletics beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @rich_silva18.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Auburn basketball lost a home game, but Tigers can't afford to sulk