Basketball Finishes Third in Charleston Classic
Mustpaha Heron led the Tigers to a win over Hofstra on Sunday (photo: auburntigers.com)
Third place in the Charleston Classic Tournament isn’t the finish that coach Bruce Pearl wanted nor is it what Auburn fans were hoping to see from the Tigers. But then again the starting line up is missing the two best players on the team. The good news is those two names are still on Auburn’s roster.
Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley are still Auburn Tigers, and the coaching staff still believes they will eventually return to the hardwood. In the meantime Auburn has a schedule to play, and Bruce Pearl has to get Auburn to the Big Dance—somehow.
The Charleston Classic was a good place to start. And it was a winnable tournament for a team trying to re-establish relevance in college basketball.
It started on the right foot as the Tigers whomped Indiana State, which had just taken down Indiana. Things looked promising with Temple up next since the Owls haven’t exactly been a contender in the American Athletic Conference and were bounced in the first round of the conference tournament last season by East Carolina. However, Temple improved to 3–0 after soundly beating Auburn by 14 points. The Owls shot nearly 50 per cent from the field and 38 per cent from downtown, whicht was 13 and 14 points, respectively, better than the Tigers.
Auburn was led by athletic Anfernee McLemore with 19 points. He came off the bench to finish with a tie as the games leading scorer. However, Temple had two players with 19 points and four players in double digits. Auburn struggled with three-point production and managed only 24 per cent. Numbers like that almost guarantee a loss.
There is some consolation in that Temple went on to win the tournament with a solid victory over Clemson.
Auburn faced Hofstra for a chance at a third-place finish. The Tigers defense continued to be dreadful, but Auburn was able to outscore the Pride, 89–78. Shooting was better across the board for the Tigers, with at 58 per cent overall and a 47 per cent mark from beyond the arc. However, Auburn repeatedly was out of place on defense, and Hofstra made the Tigers pay, shooting 52 per cent from the field and 39 per cent from downtown. The major difference? The Tigers had two more steals than Hofstra and added six blocks to the Pride’s zero. Hofstra was dreadful from the line, hitting 50 per cent of 18 attempts while Auburn shot 76 per cent from the charity stripe.
Mustpaha Heron led the Tigers to victory after a quiet start to the year. He averaged over 15 points last season but had yet to hit that mark this season before busting out 22 against Hofstra. Heron may not yet have the scores, but his numbers in other departments are improving. He had only 43 assists last season but already has 7 this season. In addition, he has added six steals.
Bryce Brown kicked in 17 as Auburn’s second leading scorer and may be the most improved player from last year’s squad. The Georgia native is already showing the long-ball efficiency he showed two years ago as a freshman. And, he has added a slashing attack to his game for when defenders commit to trying to stop his shooting.
Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer were quiet in the scoring department but added a combined four blocks and two steals but just four points. Although Spencer continues to start, McLemore is outpacing him in minutes and production. That won’t continue for long. McLemore will be a starter by midseason, assuming Austin Wiley doesn’t return.
Auburn takes on Winthrop Friday night at 6:00 PM Central in Auburn Arena. This game will be televised by SEC Network, but I encourage all fans at Auburn for the Iron Bowl to attend. Tickets are as low as $8 on Stubhub. Make sure to follow me as I live tweet the action @Best5Zach.