Auburn signs 5-star forward Yohan Traore

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AUBURN, Ala. — Five-star high school forward Yohan Traore is headed to Auburn.

Auburn announced the signing of the former LSU verbal commitment on Friday, giving the Tigers a potential successor to NBA-bound star Jabari Smith.

The 6-foot-10, 225-pound Traore is ranked as the nation’s No. 15 recruit by 247Sports.

A native of Tours, France, he played last season for Dream City Christian School in Glendale, Arizona.

“I have great respect for players like Yohan, who come to the U.S. to pursue their academic and athletic dreams, far away from their families,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Talk about a cultural fit to our program. Yohan is humble and hungry.

“He is incredibly disciplined, a hard worker and wants to be coached. He has tremendous upside because of his effort, his attitude, his size and his skill level.”

Traore joins a recruiting class that includes guards Tre Donaldson and Chance Westry. He’s the fourth five-star prospect to sign with Pearl at Auburn, joining Smith, Mustapha Heron and Sharife Cooper.

Miami dominates No. 2 seed Auburn 79-61 to reach Sweet 16

Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) Miami showed there’s still a place for old-school basketball played by experienced players – and for the Hurricanes, that’s in the Sweet 16.

The 10th-seeded Hurricanes (25-10) used a second-half surge and neutralized No. 2 seeded Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler in a 79-61 victory for its first Sweet 16 in six years.

Auburn leaned heavily on the 6-foot-10 Smith, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, and 7-1 Kessler, the nation’s blocked shots leader, on the way to an SEC title and what figured to be a deep run in the Midwest Region.

Instead, it was Miami’s smaller, older, savvier lineup that dominated.

“Being small,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said, “has its advantages.”

Especially when the group included sixth-year “super seniors” in Charlie Moore and Kameron McGusty, and fearless sophomore Isaiah Wong, who are all 6-5 or shorter.

Wong had a game-high 21 points, McGusty 20 and Moore had 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

“We just had a great night tonight,” said Sam Waardenburg, at 6-10, the tallest player in Miami’s regular rotation. “It’s what we can do every night.”

Miami advanced to the round of 16 for the fourth time overall and third time in Larranaga’s 10 seasons. The Hurricanes will head to Chicago in the Midwest Region to take on No. 11 seed Iowa State in a matchup surely no one saw coming.

“This is a dream come true for every kid growing up, you watch these college games in March all day,” McGusty said. “You just dream of making a run in the tournament and this is the start to our run.”

Auburn’s run ended in unbelievable fashion as its frontcourt of future NBA big men – both Smith and Kessler are projected first-rounders – were largely ineffective against Miami’s relentless pressure.

Smith struggled to make shots, finishing 3 of 16 for 10 points – and got dunked on by the 6-3 Wong two days after Smith’s one-handed jam in the opening round win over Jacksonville State was the talk of the tournament.

Kessler picked up two early fouls and spent much of the opening half on the bench. He, too, couldn’t find his touch and missed all six of his attempts and tied his season low of two points after finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks against Jacksonville State.

“They just sent somebody anytime I tried to attack or make a move,” Smith said. “They just kept bodies on me.”

The Tigers never held the lead, yet were only down 33-32 at the half.

But the Hurricanes opened the second half with a 15-7 burst off four points apiece by Wong and McGusty. By the time Moore hit a 3-pointer, the score was 48-39 and the raucous Auburn crowd at the start was quiet.

“In the second half, we were everywhere,” Larranaga said with pride.

The Tigers had no answers down the stretch, losing in the NCAA’s second round for the second time in their three tournament appearances under coach Bruce Pearl.

Jaylin Williams and K.D. Johnson led Auburn with 12 points each. Smith had a game-high 15 rebounds.

“It’s the first time that we got it handed us,” Pearl said. “We didn’t know how to respond.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Miami: Larranaga would love to recapture the magic of his 2006 George Mason team’s run to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. His Hurricanes are sharp right now. They’ve committed a total of just seven turnovers in two tournament games with Moore, at his fourth school in six years, in charge of the offense.

Auburn: The Tigers looked like a national championship contender much of the season. But their shooting touch went cold down the stretch. They shot just 30.4% (21 of 69) against Miami, the third time in the past six games they were under 40 percent.

SMITH’S FUTURE

Auburn’s Smith said he has not decided on his future, although projections are for him to be a high NBA lottery pick, perhaps even going No. 1 overall. Smith had tears in his eyes as he discussed his first season in college and talked about what he’ll take away from this year, whatever happens. “The bad games, the good games, just taking it with me and taking Auburn, just thanking them for everything,” he said.

MOVIE BUFF

Up just 33-32 at the half, Larranaga, a movie buff, called on his best William Wallace speech from “Braveheart” to pump up his players. Citing the film, Larranaga explained how he told his team, “Look, it’s a one-point game. Auburn is an outstanding team. We need to know what we’re made of,” he said. “Can we go out and battle them for the next 20 minutes and keep our dream alive?”

Smith leads Auburn to 10th straight NCAA opening win, 80-61

Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
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GREENVILLE, S.C. — Jabari Smith couldn’t wait for his first NCAA Tournament game so he could get back to having fun and helping second-seeded Auburn to its latest first-round victory.

Oh, and putting up a highlight-reel jam wasn’t bad, either.

Smith, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, had a sublime tournament debut with 20 points, 14 rebounds and a right-handed slam dunk that’ll be hard to miss among the highlights of the Tigers’ 80-61 victory over Jacksonville State in the Midwest Region on Friday.

The Tigers (28-5) will face 10th-seeded Miami on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.

“We have No. 10 and you don’t,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said with a smile, referring to Smith.

Pearl’s got plenty of other standouts, too.

Walker Kessler, Smith’s 7-foot-1 partner in the paint, finished a block shy of a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks. K.D. Johnson broke out of a shooting slump with 10 points and a couple of 3s as Auburn took control late in the first half.

Still, it’s hard to get past Smith, the 6-10 forward who hit four 3s to help Auburn win its 10th straight tournament-opening game.

“I was ready to play since the buzzer sounded in Tampa,” he said, referring to the SEC regular-season champs’ first-round loss to Texas A&M in the conference tournament.

Pearl told his players to get back to who they are. “You’re already champions, you’re SEC champions,” he said. “Now relax, have some fun.”

Auburn started having lots of fun late in the opening half when it went on a 17-3 run to take a 39-27 lead against 15th-seeded Jacksonville State (21-11).

Auburn was on target from the outside. K.D. Johnson ended his shooting slump – he was 0-14 in the SEC quarterfinal loss to Texas A&M – and had 10 points and a couple of 3s during the decisive spurt.

“I just think we gave them too many open shots,” Jacksonville State’s Jalen Gibbs said. “Once the run got started, it was hard to stop.”

Gibbs, Division I’s fifth-leading 3-point shooter coming in, hit his third long-range shot of the half to put the Gamecocks up 24-22 about six minutes before the break. That’s when the Tigers got going.

Jaylin Williams had two 3-pointers and Johnson added another as Auburn moved in front. Johnson followed with a sweet inside pass to Kessler, who jammed it home to the cheers of the pro-Auburn crowd.

Kessler followed with a three-point play and Johnson capped it with a second 3 for a 39-27 lead. He ran downcourt screaming, jumping and pointing toward his bench after hitting the shot.

Jacksonville State cut a 24-point deficit in half at 67-55 with less than seven minutes left but got no closer.

The fun for Auburn culminated on Smith’s power drive starting at the 3-point line and ending with his big dunk over the Gamecocks’ 6-10 forward Brandon Huffman.

“I didn’t know he was going to do that,” Johnson said. “He never did that in practice. That was the first time he showed me he can get that high, so that was crazy.”

Smith just smiled at Johnson’s comments. “I’m ready for the next one,” Smith said.

Kessler’s pursuit of the NCAA Tournament’s 10th triple-double may have been hurt when he banged into teammate Jaylin Williams’ teeth in the second half and missed several minutes as trainers treated a cut on his elbow.

Williams got the worst of it, though, with two chipped teeth. Pearl said Williams’ will be evaluated for a concussion and is unsure of his status for Sunday. Williams made all three of his shots for eight points in seven minutes.

Smith finished with his sixth double-double of the season while the Tigers added to their first-round success. Only Kansas, with 14 straight opening wins, and Gonzaga, with 13, are ahead of Auburn.

Gibbs hit four 3s and led the Gamecocks with 20 points.

BIG PICTURE

Jacksonville State: The Gamecocks took the ASUN’s automatic bid despite losing the league tournament final to Bellarmine, which is transitioning to Division I and ineligible for the tournament. Their attitude was to make the most of the opportunity and for much of the opening half they did. The team has eight upperclassmen, and most will be back next season.

Auburn: The Tigers reached the Final Four in their previous NCAA trip three years ago before a drama-filled defeat to Virginia in the semifinals. Auburn played like it expects to be playing on the final weekend. Don’t bet against it with the Smith and Kessler leading the way inside and Williams and Johnson making outside shots.

RENEWED RIVALRY

Pearl and Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper go back, way back. The two were rival coaches in Division II, Pearl leading Southern Indiana and Harper at Kentucky Wesleyan. The schools were about 40 miles apart and both eventually won national titles under Pearl and Harper.

“I’m sure the people back in Evansville, Indiana, and Owensboro, Kentucky, were tuned into that game, as they should,” Pearl joked.

“I have so much respect for Coach Harper. I’m very satisfied with the way we played,” Pearl said.

UP NEXT

Auburn looks to reach the Sweet 16.

No. 5 Auburn holds off Mississippi State 81-68 in overtime

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STARKVILLE, Miss. — K.D. Johnson scored 12 of his 14 points in overtime, Jabari Smith had 27 points overall and No. 5 Auburn held off Mississippi State 81-68 in overtime Wednesday night.

With the win, the Tigers (26-4, 14-3 Southeastern Conference) clinched at least a share of the SEC regular-season championship. It marks the fourth SEC title for Auburn and the program’s first since the 2017-18 season.

“It means so much to us because this league is so good,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “You know, there are about seven or eight teams that could have won this thing. The fact that Auburn put itself in this position is just incredible.”

Smith tied the game at 61 in the final minute of regulation, but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But Johnson scored the first 10 points of overtime to help the Tigers pull away.

Smith also finished with 10 rebounds for the Tigers and was 9 of 13 from the field. Zep Jasper also added 11 points for Auburn and was 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“(Smith) is one of the great competitors I’ve ever coached,” Pearl said. “You could look at his jump shot and you can look at all the other things about him. But that is one competitive talent. He wants the ball, he’s not afraid of the moment and I’m gonna just trust him.”

Tolu Smith had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Iverson Molinar had 14 points and five assists for Mississippi State (17-13, 8-9).

The Bulldogs missed all 13 attempts from 3-point range while Auburn was 10 of 26 behind the arc. Mississippi State did outrebound the Tigers 50-32, including 21 offensive rebounds. Andersson Garcia finished with a career-best 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs and added eight points.

“It was a tough loss and we’ve said that too many times this year,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “We outboarded them by 18, but we had too many turnovers (20). I blame myself for the looks we didn’t get down the stretch.

“Obviously, our 3-point shooting is impacting us. We are now 1 of 33 in the last three games. It is disappointing. It is frustrating for everyone.”

Auburn jumped on Mississippi State right out of the gate and did most of the damage from 3-point range. Jasper made his third 3-pointer of the half with 10:33 remaining and gave the Tigers a 23-10 advantage.

The Tigers led by as many as 19 in the first half and led 40-28 at halftime.

Auburn shot 7 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half and had 12 first-half assists. The Tigers shot 56% overall in the first half, but were outrebounded 20-16.

Mississippi State shot just 39% in the opening half and missed all nine attempts behind the 3-point arc.

However, Mississippi State used a 32-10 run that spanned over two halves and took a 54-49 lead with 7:20 left in regulation. The Bulldogs also had a chance to win late in regulation, but failed to score on their last two offensive possessions.

BIG PICTURE

Auburn: The Tigers snapped a three-game road losing streak in the SEC and did so at the perfect time. Auburn finished with a 7-3 road record in the league.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs’ shooting woes from 3-point territory continued. Against Auburn, the Bulldogs were 0 of 13 beyond the arc and over the past three games, Mississippi State is just 1 of 33 from 3-point range in that stretch.

UP NEXT

Auburn: Closes the regular season on Saturday and will host South Carolina.

Mississippi State: Concludes the regular season Saturday at Texas A&M.

Gonzaga, Arizona remain atop AP Top 25 in week of changes

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The top six and seven of the top nine teams in the AP Top 25 lost on the same day last week, an unprecedented day of chaos that led to some big changes in this week’s poll – everywhere but at the top.

Gonzaga and Arizona remained the top two teams in the poll released Monday, holding steady despite both losing their most recent games.

The Zags received 43 first-place votes from the AP’s 61-person media panel after being a unanimous pick last week. No. 3 Baylor had four first-place votes and No. 4 Duke picked up 11. Auburn rounded out the top five.

Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, Purdue, Kansas and Kentucky all lost on Saturday, marking the first time in the AP poll era (1948-49) that the top six teams lost on the same day. No. 9 Texas Tech also lost, setting another record for most top-10 teams losing in one day.

“It’s kind of life in late February and early March, especially on the road,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the Zags’ 67-57 loss to No. 19 Saint Mary’s to close out their regular season.

Baylor was the biggest beneficiary of its Saturday win, moving up seven spots after beating Kansas 80-70. The Jayhawks fell one spot to No. 6 with the loss.

Auburn lost three spots from last week after losing to No. 13 Tennessee. No. 7 Kentucky fell a spot after losing to No. 14 Arkansas and Purdue dropped four places to No. 8 with its loss to Michigan State.

Got all that?

In all, every team but four got shuffled in this week’s poll; only Gonzaga, Arizona, No. 14 Houston and No. 16 Southern California held steady.

No teams fell out or moved into the poll, but things are getting awfully interesting with conference tournaments just around the corner.

BATTLING BEARS

Baylor, the reigning national champion, looked like a good bet to get back to the Final Four at the start of the season after opening 15-0 while holding the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 for five weeks.

Then things got a little shaky.

The Bears lost consecutive home games for the first time since 2015-16, then injuries began piling up, including a gruesome leg injury to forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua.

After tumbling down the poll, Baylor may be finding its footing. The Bears won a rematch over Oklahoma State in Stillwater and did the same against Kansas on Saturday, improving to 10-1 against top-10 teams the past two seasons.

“I know our team looked a little bit different in the beginning of the year than we do now but don’t count these guys out,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They persevere.”

RISING/FALLING

Baylor’s jump was the biggest of the week by gaining seven spots. Tennessee, Arkansas and Saint Mary’s all climbed four spots.

No. 17 UCLA and No. 20 Illinois had the biggest drops (five spots). The Bruins lost to Oregon before beating Oregon State last week and the Illini lost to No. 23 Ohio State before knocking off Michigan.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences led the way again this week, each with five teams ranked. The Big 12 had four ranked teams, with the Pac-12 and Big East getting three each. The West Coast Conference had two ranked teams for the second straight week, with the Atlantic Coast, American Athletic and Ohio Valley conferences at one each.

Vescovi, Zeigler lead No. 17 Tennessee over No. 3 Auburn

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Santiago Vescovi scored 14 points and Zakai Zeigler had 11 of his 13 points in the second half to lead No. 17 Tennessee to a 67-62 victory over No. 3 Auburn on Saturday.

Kennedy Chandler had 13 and Josiah-Jordan James added 10 for the Volunteers (21-7, 12-4 Southeastern Conference), who improved their record at home to 15-0 this season.

The Tigers (25-4, 13-3) were led by Jabari Smith with 27 points. K.D. Johnson had 18 points as Auburn lost on the road for the third straight time.

Tennessee led by 10 with 2 minutes left in the game, but Auburn chipped away at the lead. Smith had a four-point play with 58 seconds left to cut the difference to three, then Zeigler hit a running jumper to push the lead back to five, 65-60.

Tennessee had a four-minute scoreless stretch in the first half when Auburn turned a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead. In the second half, the Vols’ 17-2 run covered more than five minutes and put Tennessee up 45-41.

BIG PICTURE

Auburn: Zep Jasper may be an X-factor for the Tigers heading into the postseason. He missed a couple games recently with an illness, then didn’t hit a bucket against Alabama, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Florida. He scored 15 in Auburn’s win over Mississippi earlier this week. … Coach Bruce Pearl called playing in Knoxville the equivalent of a Final Four game, and he knows what it’s like to be in Thompson-Boling Arena with 21,000 wild fans. He was the Vols coach from 2005-11.

Tennessee: Coach Rick Barnes is still working to get youngsters Jonas Aidoo and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield in the regular rotation at power forward. Since Olivier Nkamhoua (ankle surgery) was lost for the season, those two have tried to fill in but are just starting to earn confidence. … Auburn is the ninth top-25 team Tennessee has played this season.

NEXT UP

Auburn: At Mississippi State on Wednesday.

Tennessee: Makes its final road trip of the regular season to face Georgia.