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No. 3 Auburn seeking momentum in meeting with Ole Miss

No. 3 Auburn lost for the second time in its past four games on Saturday when it fell at Florida by a single point.

Now, with four regular-season games left, the Tigers will aim to get back on track, so they can step into March -- and the postseason -- with some momentum. The final stretch for the Tigers (24-3, 12-2 SEC) begins Wednesday when they host Ole Miss in Auburn, Ala.

Unlike Auburn, Ole Miss (13-14, 4-10) is coming off a win. The Rebels snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday by winning at Georgia, 85-68.

Key for Ole Miss in that victory was its sharp shooting. The Rebels shot 42.9 percent (9 of 21) from 3-point range and 55.9 percent from the floor. Ole Miss' field-goal percentage was the best it has posted in SEC play this season.

Even more impressive is that Ole Miss won comfortably without two of its top three scorers -- Jarkel Joiner and Matthew Murrell -- who were out with undisclosed illnesses. In their absences, Tye Fagan, Austin Crowley and Jaemyn Brakefield combined for 57 points and 12 assists.

"Austin Crowley really ran our team and was great from the point guard spot. That was the best Jaemyn Brakefield has played this year, because he confidently made shots," Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said. "I'm really proud of our team. It's a much-needed road win for us. Hopefully we can get back and get the troops rallied up so everybody's ready for Auburn."

The Tigers beat the Rebels 80-71 in their first meeting this season, a Jan. 15 contest in Oxford, Miss. Then-No. 4 Auburn was led in that game by Walker Kessler's 20 points, 10 boards and seven blocks.

In Auburn's loss to Florida on Saturday, Kessler wasn't as effective. He made 5 of 6 shots for 11 points, but managed to grab just three rebounds in 27 minutes. It was also just the second time this season that the 7-foot-1 sophomore had zero blocks.

"Give Florida all the credit for us not playing well," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "Florida forced us into not playing well. We're best when everybody contributes and that wasn't the case tonight."

Jabari Smith led Auburn with 28 points and seven boards against Florida and put the Tigers in a position to get their first win in Gainesville, Fla., since 1996. Auburn had possession with 7.5 seconds remaining, but the Gators tipped away a pass that could've led to the game-winning basket. Wendell Green Jr. was looking for Kessler on a routine pick-and-roll.

"They covered it pretty well," Smith said. "It just didn't work out."

As a team, the Tigers had 17 turnovers to just nine assists. That's the third-worst assist-turnover margin Auburn has had in a single game this season.

Defensively, Auburn allowed Florida to shoot 40 percent -- 10 of 25 -- from behind the arc.

To finish the regular season strong, Auburn's offense and defense will need to be sharper. The Tigers finish the regular season with road games at No. 17 Tennessee and Mississippi State followed by a home matchup with South Carolina on March 5.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 21, 2022

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