PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Jabari Smith poured in 22 points Friday to lead No. 19 Auburn past Syracuse, 89-68, in the Battle 4 Atlantis fifth-place game. The rookie scored in double figures in all three games in the Bahamas.
After a double first-round overtime loss, the Tigers bounced back to beat Loyola Chicago and Syracuse on back-to-back days to improve to 5-1 on the season.
Junior Devan Cambridge delivered the exclamation point for Auburn against the Orange on Friday with a reverse dunk in the final minutes. It was one of nine dunks for the Tigers that were successful against Syracuse’s patented zone defense. There was a streak early in the second half where they converted lobs on three straight possessions.
Auburn only turned it over seven times for the game against Syracuse.
“When you have Jabari Smith and Jaylin Williams in the middle of an area like that – you try to give them the ball, you put it in their hands and you just trust them,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl noted. “You trust them to get upside down, you trust them to get to the rim, you trust them to make plays. They’re both great playmakers.”
Smith, an all-tournament team selection, added six rebounds and four assists while Williams finished with nine points, seven rebounds and two assists off the bench.
The Tigers had just three players scoring in double digits with Smith (22), Cambridge (10) and K.D. Johnson (15), but they got contributions from everyone in Friday’s win as all 10 players in the main rotation scored. The Auburn bench outscored the Syracuse bench, 33-11.
“I thought our bench was great,” Pearl said. “Wendell (Green) comes off the bench, Jaylin comes off the bench, Chris Moore. Then Lior Berman gave us huge minutes. And our guys feed off of that when our 10th man is out there playing. It gives you great confidence.”
Berman knocked down 3 straight possessions midway through the first half to give Auburn a boost and cap a 16-3 run.
The Tigers had a 10-point advantage at halftime thanks to a down shot from Wendell Green Jr. at the buzzer to make it 43-33. The game was set up by a steal from Johnson, one of three steals in the first half by Johnson who had 9 of his 15 points before halftime.
Johnson averaged 16.3 points per game and had 14 steals in three games in the Bahamas.
“KD is a playmaker,” Pearl said. “He’s aggressive. I like that he makes a lot of good decisions to get off the ball. He knows when a guy needs help and he’s ready to play. And when he comes in he’s a bit like a shark. With a little blood in the water, he sees this blood and he goes to get it.
Coming off the bench for the third straight game, Green led Auburn with seven assists against Syracuse. Second year Dylan Cardwell also had a major come off the bench with six points, six rebounds and a block in 17 minutes on the court.
The Tigers dominated inside, winning the battle on the boards 38-28 and edging the Orange in the paint by a 42-26 margin. They also had five blocks and 11 interceptions.
Auburn will return to the field next Wednesday, Dec. 4, to face UCF. The game is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. CT from Auburn Arena.
“Mentally, I feel like we’re in a good place,” Smith said. “We think we should have won three games, but we came here to win two and we did. I know we’ve improved through losses, wins, bad and good pushes.”