Auburn Basketball Improves to 6–1, Gardner-Webb Up Next
Auburn forward Desean Murray shoots against Dayton Flyers forward Matej Svoboda at University of Dayton Arena (photo: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports)
In the midst of Auburn’s SEC Championship weekend, the Tiger basketball team added two more non-conference wins to its win column. Auburn defeated the University of Dayton 73–60 and George Mason 79–63 to improve to 6–1 overall.
This is the time of year when fans begin to transition from football to basketball, so perhaps a refresher is in order. Many of you know that the embattled Auburn program is without Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley. Purifoy was held out an entire year in 2015 when he couldn’t make it through the NCAA Clearinghouse hurdles. Wiley played early after joining the Tigers in mid-December last season. Both have been held out this season as precautions in light of the the Chuck Person scandal. However, it seems doubtful that either will play for Auburn ever again.
Purifoy and Wiley being held out of play makes Auburn second or third to last in the SEC versus an NCAA Tournament team.
Just don’t tell that to the other Tigers.
The rest of the roster has talent, but the team is already finding its identity to be different thanfrom last year. In particular, shooting guard Bryce Brown is morphing into a multi-dimensional player, a far cry from just an outside shooter. Brown set records hitting the long shot as a freshman before enduring a quiet sophomore season. The Brown that is on the court now is a different animal, taking defenders to the hole while scoring over 17 points a game, a full ten points better than last season. His numbers are up across the board. Though it was speculated that he would be a starter with Purifoy and Wiley in the mix, he’s now taken on much more responsibility. Coach Bruce Pearl is relying heavily on Brown, who’s averaging 31 minutes a game, ten more than last season. Brown had 11 points against the Dayton Flyers before kicking in 17 against George Mason on Sunday.
With Wiley out, Pearl has turned to …
Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore. Spencer has been a part-time starter and a large part of the rotation for two years, although he was far from the headliner.
McLemore was a member of last season’s heralded freshman class that included Jared Harper and Mustapha Heron. McLemore showed much promise and elite athleticism last season and averaged 15 minutes per game. Although he doesn’t always get the starting nod, McLemore has been a force for the Tigers. averaging nine points per game. But, it isn’t the points that make him so valuable. McLemore has denied over three shots a game while adding six rebounds per contest. “Blocklemore” had ten swats in the last two contests on top of his 18 points.
While those two players keep stepping up, Mustapha Heron continues to improve his game. Heron came to Auburn as the first five-star basketball recruit in Auburn history and was very good as a freshman when he averaged 15 points per game. Thus far, he has been able to up that average to 17, but he isn’t forcing things as he sometimes did as a freshman.
Point man Jared Harper is distributing the ball even better this year than last. He’s doing more in almost every category except the one that matters: turnovers, which are down from last season. Freshman Chuma Okeke has been very impressive in part-time duty and has kicked in over nine points per game.
Dayton has been a solid team in the past, but the Flyers have struggled this season. George Mason put up a fight despite being down nearly 20 points early in the contest. Auburn played sloppily for long stretches before putting up two back-to-back threes to seal the victory.
Up next is Gardner-Webb, a team that also hasn’t had an impressive start. It’s allowed over 100 points in two of their losses, one a 116–74 drubbing at the hands of top-ranked Florida.
The matchup should be a good measuring stick for this Auburn team when it takes the court Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. The Bulldogs get most of their point production from a pair of upperclassman guards in Liam O’Reilly and David Efianayi. With Harper and Brown likely to draw coverage, expect a solid outing for the Tigers.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter @Best5Zach as I live tweet in-game action.