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3 Thoughts on Auburn’s ECNC Tournament Championship Win Over Freeman

February 06, 2022

Auburn and Freeman faced off for the second time this season on Saturday night, only this time a conference title was up for grabs. 

The teams traveled to Weeping Water for the East Central Nebraska Conference tournament championship and the Bulldogs used an 11-0 run to take control in the third quarter then held on in the fourth for a 28-21 win.

Here are three thoughts on the game.

Points at a Premium

Through Freeman’s first 20 games, the Falcons had given up just 33.6 points per game (while scoring 49.8). Auburn wasn’t far behind at 35.4 points allowed per game through 19 games (compared to 53.8 scored per game).

Two elite defenses squared off on Saturday night, and points came few and far between. The score was 8-5 after one quarter and 13-11 at halftime. After Cater Niles converted a three-point play early in the third to give the Falcons a five-point lead, Auburn locked down and put together an 11-0 run fueled by turnovers to end the period and turn the tables. 

The fourth quarter included just nine total shot attempts, three trips to the foul line and four turnovers as Auburn maintained at least a two-possession advantage throughout the period.

Freeman shot 9-of-29 from the field including 1-of-11 from 3 and 2-of-4 from the foul line. Auburn shot 12-of-31 (2-of-10 from deep) and 2-of-4 from the charity stripe. The biggest difference was the turnovers as the Bulldogs forced 13 while giving the ball away just seven times themselves.

Auburn doesn’t have a 6-foot-6 shot-blocker like Daniel Frary waiting in the paint like it did last year, but what Coach Jim Weeks does have is a mostly interchangeable starting five capable of switching everything and pressuring the ball one through five. That pressure is what fueled the decisive run in the third quarter.

To Freeman’s credit, the Falcons were incredibly difficult to score on as well. Nearly any time a Bulldog got into the paint he was met by one, two or three bodies cutting off his path.

Auburn held Freeman to its lowest point total of the season, and Freeman held Auburn to its lowest total as well.

Game-Changer

One player reached double figures in scoring in Saturday’s game: Auburn senior Marcus Hudson. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 from the field (2-of-4 from 3) and 1-of-1 from the line with four rebounds and a steal.

Hudson had a quiet first half, scoring on a layup in the first quarter then missing a pair of 3s in the second. 

Then he came alive in the third. Hudson buried a 3-pointer — the first made 3 for either team at the 2:55 mark of the third period — to give Auburn the lead, then he added a pair of layups to close out the quarter and give Auburn a 22-16 lead.

Hudson hit another corner 3, then he all but sealed the game with a brilliant move for a three-point play, freezing his defender with a hesitation then crossing over and getting all the way to the rim to finish through contact, giving Auburn a 28-21 lead with 2:46 to play. In total, 13 of his 15 came in the second half.

Auburn doesn’t quite have the star power of the last few years, but it does have pretty good balance as any of its five starters could lead the team in scoring in any given game.

Fierce Falcons

Saturday was just Freeman’s second loss of the season. The first also came to Auburn, 42-22, back on Dec. 17. The Falcons have swept the rest of the teams on their schedule to this point, and that includes a 16-point win over a Class B team in Norris.

The driving force behind the team’s success is junior wing Carter Ruse. He led the team with nine points on 4-of-8 shooting (1-of-3 from 3) on Saturday. He opened the fourth quarter with a mid-range jumper to pull the Falcons within four, then after Hudson’s 3-pointer he immediately answered with a triple of his own to cut the deficit back to four with 3:02 remaining, giving Freeman a chance.

At 6-foot-2 with a strong frame, Ruse is aggressive offensively and can really shoot the ball. In Thursday’s 68-42 semifinal win over Malcolm, Ruse exploded for 32 points and knocked down four 3-pointers in one quarter.

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