Chuma Okeke was named SEC Player of the Week for his performance through two games (photo: USA TODAY Sports)
Auburn may have some business to attend to when it takes on Mississippi College tonight at 7:00 p.m., but all eyes are on the Maui Invitational, the premier kickoff tournament in college basketball.
But before all of this, a look back at the first week of Tiger basketball is in order.
Auburn destroyed South Alabama when it dropped in 101 points. However, the real test was against the No. 25 Washington Huskies, who were set to visit Auburn Arena and witness the madness of The Jungle. This event was rarefied air because it was a Top 25 matchup with Auburn sporting a No. 11 ranking. Top 25 battles inside the Arena are something new. That’s partly because the Arena is fairly new, but it is also because Auburn hasn’t been a legit Top 25 program for some time.
Make no mistake, there are Auburn fans, and there are Auburn basketball fans. Auburn fans may have seen this as another chance for Auburn athletics to come out flat when the nation expected them to be elite, similar to what has happened this year with the football program. When it became obvious that big man Austin Wiley wasn’t quite ready to be a starter, many fringe fans assumed that might not work out in the Tigers’ favor. Adding to the anxiety was the fact that Danjel Purifoy isn’t eligible to return to play for eight more games.
However, the display that Bruce Pearl’s squad put on against Washington was nothing short of amazing. It was eye opening. Auburn made a statement by destroying the Huskies. Sure, it wasn’t the 101–58 score the Tigers put on South Alabama. But it was 88–66, and in reality the final score was as close as the Huskies got after the first few minutes of the game.
Here’s the thing. Auburn’s studs didn’t play well. Wiley looked lost in his first minutes on the hardwood in over a year. In fact, Auburn looked slower and more vulnerable with him on the floor. The five-star finished with a measly five points. The guys expected to back him up, Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer, added only eight points.
Bryce Brown, the man who will own almost every single long-ball shooting record at the end of the year, wasn’t terrific, but he was good. He and fellow guard Jared Harper each finished with 13. They played well, but it was necessary to score a lot more to beat a top 25 team by 20-odd points.
The guys who shined were those who were expected to come off the bench, at least before the season began. Chuma Okeke made a case to be a starter last season when McLemore went down with an injury. Okeke earned SEC Player of the Week honors with his game-leading 19 points. He added 10 rebounds to finish with a double double. He’s a hybrid player for sure. But, man, he is good.
Who else is good?
Samir Doughty. With the talent and experience on this team, the VCU transfer wasn’t expected to be a real contender as a starter. But Doughty has done everything he’s needed to do with his performance. He kicked in 18 points for the Tigers.
Outside of those two players, Auburn was sloppy at times, and many vets didn’t play up to expectations. Still, the proof was in the final score. Auburn is really, really good.
Pearl has something special taking place on the Plains. His Tigers dominated from start to finish against a good opponent, and they did it without Purifoy and with Wiley being extremely limited. Pearl wasn’t happy with the win, especially with the end of the game. That’s what makes him special. He wasn’t pleased with the Tigers winning by 30 or more for much of the game only to end with a 22-point win. He wants more. He demands more.
Let’s see what happens this week.
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