Tigers Get Critical Road Win Ahead of Kentucky
Bryce Brown was hot in Auburn's blowout win over Texas A&M (photo: USA TODAY Sports)
Perhaps the only major knock on Bruce Pearl’s Auburn basketball team has been itsr inability to show up on the road. There is no doubting they rank among the sport’s elite, but the one thing that has plagued the Tigers even before this year was poor road play.
Typically, fans that haven’t followed the program in depth would more likely to pinpoint a symptom of the struggles such as poor shooting from beyond the arc rather than the overall issue. It hadn’t escaped Pearl, and it was obvious that he had the Tigers prepared to play in a tough road environment Wednesday in College Station, Texas.
ESPNU did a fine job covering the Texas A&M yell leaders and all of their unique cheers. However, it was not because of the effect it had on Auburn’s performance, but because the game was so out of hand that it was the only thing that was compelling.
Auburn never trailed in this contest with the game only being knotted up twice: when the Aggies tied it at 2–2 and 4–4. The Tigers held a 48–32 lead at half and a 65–44 lead at one point midway in the second half. The Aggies did close the gap, so to speak, as Auburn was incredibly sloppy after playing a fine-tuned game for most of the contest. The sloppiness led Pearl to leave the starters in for more minutes than one might expect during a blowout. The game ended at 85–66 on the road against a team that had just won a road victory in Tuscaloosa.
Bryce Brown was surface-of-the-sun hot for the closing moments of the first half. Brown scored 19 consecutive points, which represented the vast majority of his 22 total points, 20 of which came in the first half onslaught. Brown finished with 5–11 shooting from long range, hitting an astounding four straight shots in the first half. Brown was easily the headliner, but there were a lot of other highlights from the Tigers.
It might have been Brown’s deluge of long balls that blew the game open, but it was Anfernee McLemore’s 3–3 sharp-shooting to start the game that fanned the flame for Brown’s big night. McLemore came off the bench for starter Austin Wiley; ultimately played five more minutes (19 total) and outscored the big man 13–4. Wiley wasn’t unheard from, however, as he out-rebounded everyone on the floor with 12 boards while adding a block.
As if he had read a comment I had just made on Twitter about not being a block player, Chuma Okeke found a rhythm in the second half by posting up in the paint and looking like a legit big man. On a night when he was 0–3 from downtown, Chuma boxed out and used a natural looking hook shot to score several two-point buckets. He hit five of eight shots inside the arc to finish with ten points, two steals, seven boards and an assist. Long range struggles aside, it was the most complete game I can recall from him.
Jared Harper’s efforts may have been overshadowed as he tossed in 17 points and had six assists on 4–9 shooting from three-point range. However, he had another off night at the line, going 1–3 while adding three turnovers.
Auburn was able to work in several reserve players, but there was one particular player that continues to get zero minutes …
More on the Tigers’ big road win over Texas A&M after the jump.
After logging minuscule minutes after his year-long suspension, Danjel Purifoy hasn’t seen the hardwood since the start of SEC play. There is no doubt that he is a more talented player than anyone on Auburn’s bench, and while he may not be in game shape to take over for someone like Malik Dunbar, it is surprising to see him not logging time at all.
Obviously, something has developed between Purifoy and the coaching staff. Still, as frustrating as it has to be for No. 3, he has to remember that he is playing for one of, if not the best, coache, in college basketball, and he has to do things the right way. That will be a hard decision in a society that doesn’t believe in waiting one’s turn.
Up next is the premier matchup at home, or at least until Tennessee comes calling at the of the season. Kentucky and the Big Blue Nation descend upon the Plains this Saturday at 3:00 PM. This marks another return visit of Tony Barbee, the much ridiculed former Auburn head coach. Auburn has defeated the Wildcats their last two visits to Auburn Arena.
Jared Harper led the way with 18 points in Auburn’s 76–66 win against Kentucky last year. Harper can take over games when he has to, but it would be a shocker for him to do that against a Kentucky program that isn’t quite where it usually is.
According to ESPN’s BPI, Auburn is a 69-percent favorite to win this contest. The ‘Cats are obviously talented and well rounded, getting production from multiple players. Point guard Keldon Johnson leads the team with nearly 15 points per game. He turns over the ball a fair amount, and Auburn is one of the best in the nation at turning teams over and scoring.
The Wildcats are on a bit of a scoring slide. Despite winning both of their last two contests, they’ve done it without scoring over 70, and Johnson scored zero points in the win against Georgia.
As usual, anticipate Bryce Brown to D-up Johnson. Four different Kentucky players score in double digits, so Auburn will need an all-around performance on defense. Expect Anfernee McLemore to be the linchpin in an Auburn win.
The game tips off at 3:00 PM on a premier spot on ESPN.