Tigers Earn National Respect
After a 14–1 start, Bruce Pearl has his Tigers ranked in the Top 25 (photo: Dakota-Sumpter/Auburn-Athletics)
For a stretch of two or three weeks, it seemed like the moment would never come. The wins were piling up but Auburn basketball was not receiving any national attention outside of the passing comments of how good this team could be with the two suspended players. After all, it was the team across the state that was garnering all the positive attention with its preseason ranking and near loss to a national brand while having only three players on the court.
Auburn recently completed its nonconference slate with solid wins against UAB, Middle State, and UConn.
That wasn’t a new feat for a Bruce Pearl-led squad. The previous iterations of the Tigers under Pearl had done well enough in nonconference schedulesd, but it was the meat of the SEC that stymied the progress, at least in terms of wins and losses. To be fair, Auburn was growing even in those tough periods but could it overachieve the 4–14 predicted record?
Auburn announced itself as a not only a force within the SEC, but a team worthy of national respect as it overcame multiple streaks to knock off Tennessee last week. As a result the Tigers are ranked No. 22 in this week’s AP poll.
Basketball is a funny sport when you look at just single data point. For example, Auburn beat Kentucky two years ago, but what did that win mean on a national level? Virtually nothing. So, when Auburn slayed the beast of streaks against UT, and UT beat Kentucky this weekend, it wouldn’t have mattered much if Auburn couldn’t back it up against No. 22 Arkansas. As any follower of Auburn basketball in the last 18 or so years will tell you, Auburn will just be Auburn. ‘s Although this year team has looked like world beaters at times, it would surprise virtually no one for the Tigers to have won in Knoxville for the first time in forever against a ranked UT team just to turn around and lay an egg at home against the Hogs.
Still, The Jungle was packed and loud for the 22nd ranked Hogs. It could have been a defining moment, either way. But Auburn showed up and showed out, and did so on national television.
Despite officiating taking wild swings, from ultra conservative to a nearly “call your own foul” mentality, the Tigers did what they haven’t been able to do in the past: adapt and overcome. In the meantime, they took down the Hogs and did it by double digits.
There were other streaks broken in Auburn Arena: beating a ranked team and beating ranked teams back-to-back.
And there’s a first that will happen tonight as Auburn hosts a ranked team in Auburn Arena for the first time ever as the Ole Miss Rebels come to town. The 14–1 (2–0 SEC) Tigers have the third-longest winning streak in the country and the longest at Auburn in a very long time. They sit at the top of the SEC, at least for the moment.
How did they get there?
Phenomenal perimeter defense kept the top-shooting Hogs from hitting the long ball. They shot just 21 percent despite being a 40-percent shooting team. Auburn compounded the Hogs’ issues by shooting 55 percent from beyond the arc. That’s right, 55 percent. It wasn’t just the starters, Bryce Brown, Mustapha Heron or Jared Harper, doing the damage either.
The Auburn bench was 3–6 from downtown with Heron leading the way with 3–4 shooting. Auburn shot 53 percent from the field, and the Tigers had five players in double digits. Auburn’s bench stepped up with 24 points as big men Anferneed McLemore and Horace Spencer got only six points. Mustapha Heron led the Tigers with 17 points, Jared Harper had eight assists, and the Tigers committed only nine turnovers.
Auburn’s sharpshooting was key as the Tigers’ big men struggled getting boards just as much as getting points. The Hogs had nine offensive boards to Auburn’s five. The Tigers also had a down game on blocks, only registering three.
Once again, it doesn’t matter how you win or who does the damage as long as you win. Auburn’s versatility continues to be incredibly impressive. It’s not only how the Tigers score but with whom. Bryce Brown can take the ball to the hole and is no longer just a long distance shooter. Chuma Okeke is a great power forward, and he is also killing it from beyond the arc.
Auburn gets a 9–6 Ole Miss squad ranked third in the SEC after three SEC games. The Rebels’ guard Deandre Burnett does the damage, averaging almost 15 points and almost five assists per contest. He is hitting about 39 percent of his threes, so it is imperative for Bryce Brown to lock him down. The Rebels get the rest of their production from Terence Davis, the other guard, who kicks in around 13 points per game.
Look for Auburn to get Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore involved early tonight.
The Tigers tip off at 8:00 PM on ESPNU. Make sure to follow me @Best5Zach