Dunans Carried Off Court After Win
Sometimes, it’s the unexpected things in life that bring the most joy. That was the case today at Auburn Arena. A surprisingly big crowd was on hand to see Austin Wiley, the most heralded freshman since Charles Barkley, take the court. But when it was all over, it was senior T.J. Dunans who was being carried off the court by his teammates.
Dunans’ improbable buzzer beater moved Auburn to 8–2 on the season after the 76–74 win over Mercer. For 40 minutes, the crowd made this game feel like an early March contest, not a sleepy Christmas Break walk through against a no-name opponent.
“The play was for Jared (Harper) to set a little baseline screen for Dunans to bring him to the corner and come off a double pin-down at the top,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “The problem was Danjel (Purifoy) didn’t wait for Jared to get there, and he slipped down too soon. Jared curled and wasn’t open.
“So, really, Mustapha (Heron) didn’t have anybody to throw the ball to. So he threw it to the tallest, next best available player, and that was Dunans in the corner. Obviously he made a memorable shot.”
It’s hard to tell how good this team will be when the calendar turns to SEC play later this month. A 10-point favorite, Auburn trailed much of the contest until swapping leads down the stretch. Wiley’s impact was felt immediately. The 17-year-old phenom had a critical blocked shot in the closing minutes, followed by a key basket with under a minute left to give Auburn the lead.
Playing him sparingly throughout the game, Bruce Pearl turned to Wiley down the stretch, keeping him in the game in the closing moments. It will take time for this offense to get accustomed to having him in the paint. At times, Auburn sputtered trying to figure out how best to get the ball inside to him.
While it’s easy to dismiss the win as one Auburn shouldn’t have struggled with, Pearl’s bunch came away with a critical 8th win in nonconference play and a huge confidence booster going forward.
“These are the kinds of games you have to win to have a potentially memorable season,” Pearl said. “It’s hard to get eight wins in the nonconference [schedule], especially against the schedule that we’re playing, and so we feel obviously very, very fortunate.”