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Auburn Basketball Bounces Back Against Norfolk State

By on November 14th, 2017 in Basketball, News Comment »
Feb 17, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl gestures instructions to his players in the second half of a game with the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. The Tigers won 90-86. Mandatory Credit: Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

The debut of Auburn’s 2017 basketball team was largely overshadowed by the coming iteration of The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Despite the amount of traffic on the Plains for the coming game, Auburn Arena was far from full when the Tigers took the hardwood Saturday against Norfolk State.

It’s hard to blame fans, especially in the wake of the FBI investigation that cost Chuck Person his job and two of Auburn’s best players their eligibility. In addition the pay-for-play scandal may eventually cost head coach Bruce Pearl his job.

Even if Pearl should escape the scandal, there remains the possibility that another lackluster season might end Pearl’s tenure. That seems probable,  considering that Auburn’s two best players are now ineligible. It’s a sad state of affairs to hear that Austin Wiley’s mother, an Auburn women’s basketball legend, may have accepted money illegally, knowing what it could mean to the program.

With all the distractions and questions circling the program, it was no surprise that Auburn struggled in its exhibition game against a Barry team that shot the lights out from downtown. But, Coach Pearl was quick to point out that it was just an exhibition.

Sure, that sounded like coach speak. After all, Auburn showed the same problems it has had in the last few years: living (and dying) by the long ball along with an inability to play defense for any amount of time. 

Still,  I was compelled to turn on the game, though I had to stream from the Watch ESPN App.  Despite losing two of its best players, despite a hot-seat coach, and despite a lackluster (in numbers) crowd, Auburn basketball showed up in a big way.

Perhaps more surprising than the 102 points that Auburn put up was who did the majority of the damage. Bryce Brown, who had a down year last season after a stellar freshman campaign, lit up Norfolk State to the tune of 31 points. That was four points better than his career high of 27 against Arkansas last season. “Downtown” Brown was .500 from beyond the arc, but the three-ball isn’t how he did the majority of his damage. Despite being 4–8 in long balls, Bryce slashed to the hoop and made good on some of the brilliant inside moves fans began to see last season when he struggled with the three. He was an astounding 12–16 from the floor.

Not to be outdone, point guard Jared Harper was a perfect 3–3 from the outside and 4–4 from the charity stripe. In the end, Auburn had five players in double figures with Horace Spencer being the only starter not to record double-digit points, though he kicked in three blocks. However, despite earning the start, his 13 minutes were doubled by Anfernee McLemore, who continues to make a case as the most athletic big man on the roster. While playing second fiddle to Spencer and then again as Wiley’s backup, McLemore earned the nickname “Blocklemore” from swatting away shot after shot. He’s on a hot streak already as he pounded out four more and a steal to go with his ten points. McLemore can jump out of the gym and only needs to cut down his turnovers as he led the team with five lost balls.. 

Presbyterian transfer, Desean Murray, earned a start in the position that Danjel Purifoy would normally have occupied. The junior made valuable contributions by adding an offensive rebound on top of his six defensive rebounds, three assists, two steals, a block and pouring in 13 points. 

Though Norfolk State isn’t premier competition, Auburn was efficient and fun to watch. The Tigers take on Indiana State this coming Thursday at 10:30 a.m. CT. The game will be on ESPNU. Make sure to follow me as I live tweet the game in action @Best5Zach

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