No. 19 Auburn beats Loyola Chicago 62-53 in Battle 4 Atlantis

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Even after playing two overtimes on Wednesday, No. 19 Auburn’s deeper bench allowed the Tigers to pull away in the second half vs. Loyola Chicago 24 hours later in a 62-53 Thanksgiving victory at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

“That’s what makes us a good team that’s trying to become a great team,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who distributed playing time among 10 Tigers. “I think fatigue was absolutely a factor in this game.”

The stats bear out Pearl’s assessment. In the second half, Loyola was 1-for-10 on 3-pointers after shooting 46.2 percent in the first half from behind the line and 61.9 percent overall.

“The depth of our team allows us to play through fatigue,” said Auburn sophomore Walker Kessler, who recorded his second double-double in 24 hours with 13 points and 10 rebounds. 

Wendell Green Jr. hit a pair of deep 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give Auburn a 44-40 lead early in the second half. Green scored all 10 of his points after intermission, adding four rebounds, four assists and three steals. 

Jabari Smith took over from there, making Auburn’s next four baskets, including a turnaround jumper in the paint over multiple defenders to extend the Tigers’ lead to 55-46.

“We rolled him down in there and we posted him up,” Pearl said. “He took tough catches, he had a nice rhythm to his game, he scored through some contact, he was strong with the ball, he didn’t turn it over. When you add that inside aspect as well as the perimeter offense, now all of a sudden he’s the complete package.”

“He hit a couple shots that not many people in the world can guard,” said Loyola coach Drew Valentine. 

Smith led the Tigers with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed four rebounds in a team-high 29 minutes. 

“It’s getting me ready for more big games,” the 6-10 freshman said. “Every game in the SEC is going to be tough and challenging. Playing against stronger, tougher competition shows how together we are, and I’m enjoying it.”

The Ramblers cut Auburn’s lead to five with 1:37 to play but Green lobbed to Kessler for a dunk, then Kessler blocked a shot 11 seconds later, leading to a pair of free throws by Green for the game’s final points.

Kessler added four blocks and a pair of steals. Auburn outrebounded Loyola 36-26. 

“Jabari showed that he’s the best player here,” Pearl said. “Walker showed he’s the best rim protector here. I thought our kids really stepped up.”

Any concerns that Auburn’s tank might be less than full after Wednesday’s double overtime thriller vs. UConn were quickly dispelled when the Tigers raced to a 7-0 lead in the first 73 seconds. 

K.D. Johnson picked up where he left off Wednesday when he scored a career-high 27 points, making two early steals, assisting on Devan Cambridge’s transition dunk, then hitting a 3-pointer. 

Kessler’s putback gave Auburn its largest lead of the half at 22-15, but the Ramblers used a 7-0 run to go ahead 30-29 before Zep Jasper’s jumper with 18 seconds left gave Auburn a 34-32 halftime lead. 

Johnson made four of Auburn’s eight first-half steals leading to an 18-11 advantage in points off turnovers. Jasper had five of the Tigers’ nine assists in the half and added one in the second half to finish with six. 

The Tigers (4-1) will conclude the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday vs. the Syracuse-Arizona State winner at 3:30 p.m. CT, each team’s third game in three days.

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer

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