Auburn tops undefeated LSU behind Kessler’s Triple Double

AUBURN, Ala. – Walker Kessler blocked a career-high 11 shots and recorded a triple double to lead No. 11 Auburn to a 70-55 victory over No. 16 LSU Wednesday in the SEC opener at Auburn Arena.

“A good win against a really good team,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Our defense was outstanding. It starts and ends with Walker Kessler, his ability to protect the rim. Walker cleans everything up. If there’s a better defender, rim protector and shot blocker in the country, I haven’t seen him.”

Kessler scored a team-high 16 points and led the Tigers with 10 rebounds in Auburn’s ninth straight win.

“I have a pretty good timing going for blocks, knowing when and where to attack it,” said Kessler, who logged Auburn’s first triple-double since Kenny Gabriel had 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks vs. Bethune-Cookman on Jan. 2, 2012. “It was a lot of fun. Our fans were electric.”

With six minutes remaining, LSU had a chance to make it a one-possession game but K.D. Johnson’s steal and slam put Auburn ahead 52-44 and the Tigers pulled away from there behind 3-pointers from Allen Flanigan and Jabari Smith, who shared scoring honors with Kessler with 16 points.

In a matchup of the SEC’s top defenses, Auburn held LSU to 28.6 percent shooting and 20.7 percent (6-for-29) on 3-point attempts, handing the Bengal Tigers (12-1, 0-1) their first defeat.

“We were able to control the game with our defense,” Pearl said. “The fact that LSU had four assists and 17 turnovers was huge.”

Wendell Green Jr. added 15 points and Flanigan, making his first start, added 10.

Auburn held LSU without a field goal for the first 10 minutes and 46 seconds of the game while the Bengal Tigers missed their first 16 shots, including 11 3-point attempts.

Kessler scored six points and began his block barrage with early rejections to help the Tigers build a double-digit lead.

“Great timing, great length,” Pearl said of Kessler’s blocking prowess. “You’ve got to be a tough guy to be willing to get up in the air in all of that traffic, and he doesn’t get enough credit for that.”

Flanigan’s first 3-pointer of the season capped an 18-0 Auburn run, forcing LSU to call timeout trailing 18-1 with 10:52 remaining in the half.

“We have, if not the best defense in the country, one of the best,” Kessler said. “I think we showed that tonight.”

In the final seconds of the half, Smith grabbed a rebound and drove the length of the court for a jumper with one second left that gave Auburn a 32-21 halftime lead.

“Pushing the tempo and trying to get an open look,” Smith said. “Just playing patient and poised, getting to my spot and hitting my shot.”

Smith scored all nine of his first-half points down the stretch to restore Auburn’s lead to double-digits after LSU scored 10 straight points and pulled within six.

“The Jungle helped us get our energy back, lock in on defense and fight that run,” Smith said.

Auburn (12-1, 1-0) plays its first SEC road game Jan. 4 at South Carolina at 5:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network.

“I want better. I want more productive, I want smarter, and continue to maintain that effort and energy,” Pearl said. “It’s a nice home win. We did what we were supposed to do. Really good effort and a great start to the SEC season.”

Categories: Auburn, Sports