Tigers Set for Two Games This Week
This will be the final week that Auburn has to play without Danjel Purifoy (photo: Auburn Media file)
It didn’t take the Tigers long to get back to their winning ways, more specifically dropping 100 points on their opponents. After a six-point loss to the Duke Blue Devils in Maui, Auburn trounced an Arizona team that is dealing with severe sanctions. The Wildcats had little chance to win any games in Maui, but they at least put up a fight in their preliminary games. Auburn dismantled the ‘Cats with a 73–57 win which was actually one of their more competitive scores in this young season.
Auburn dropped 99 points with its walkons on the floor against the St. Peter’s Peacocks. The Tigers led by 31 at the half before throttling back in the second half. Anfernee McLemore led the way with 19 points. Austin Wiley led on the boards with nine rebounds, and Jared Harper handed out eight assists. Twelve different Auburn players scored points, and Austin Wiley heated up, chipping in 16 points off the bench.
Wiley may be Auburn’s highest rated recruit, but missing a year of basketball has caused head coach Bruce Pearl to limit the big man’s minutes. He has yet to eclipse the 20-minute mark. The play of Horace Spencer and McLemore may also limit Wiley’s minutes this year, but ultimately it will prove to be a good thing for the team. Not only have Spencer and McLemore been effective, but it has been obvious at times that Wiley isn’t quite there in terms of overall team play. Frequently the offense looks slower and not in sync, but Wiley’s ability makes up for that temporary shortcoming.
In the meantime, having depth at the big man spot is going to win a lot of games down the stretch. The wildcard will come in just 11 days when Danjel Purifoy makes his return after a lengthy suspension.
This will be the final week without Purifoy as the Tigers take on a hapless UNC–Asheville squad on Wednesday. Auburn is 4–0 inside Auburn Arena, and UNC–Asheville is 0–3 on the road and 1–6 overall. After an opening win against St. Andrews, the Bulldogs lost their next six.
According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Bulldogs have a little more than one percent chance to win this game. The Bulldogs are averaging just 57 points per contest, an approximate 30-point deficit to the high-scoring Tigers. The Bulldogs are led by guard Devon Baker, who leads their scoring efforts with almost 16 points per game. However, Baker is a volume shooter, hitting only 36 percent of his attempts. With Bryce Brown guarding, Baker and the Bulldogs are in for a very long night.
Closing out the week, Auburn welcomes the Dayton Flyers for a Saturday special at 7:30. The mid-major team is a respected name in college basketball, but this year’s squad has been struggling. Granted, the Flyers play a tough schedule, but Dayton has dropped three straight games after starting the season 4–0. That competition included No. 4 Virginia, Oklahoma, and No. 25 Mississippi State. In those losses, the Flyers scored 59, 54, and 58 points with 65 points proved to be the magic number for the opposition. In the three contests the Flyers allowed 65 points twice and 66 once.
Guard Jalen Crutcher leads the Flyers, averaging 13 points and six assists per contest on 44 percent shooting. Six-five guard Trey Landers leads their rebounding with seven boards a game. Six-eight forward Josh Cunningham is the player to watch. He scores just under 14 points a game but averages over 30 minutes playing time.
Based on its wins and losses, Dayton succeeds in high-scoring affairs but loses when its chances to score are limited. Just a basic look at the stats reveals a team that wins with hot shooting but cannot rebound with bigger teams. And Auburn has a ten-rebound per game edge. With Auburn having Wiley, Spencer, and McLemore playing well, don’t be surprised if Auburn slows down the offense and coach Pearl focuses on scoring points in the paint. At some point this season, Auburn will need to be able to do that, and this will be a good game to work on that approach.
With the Flyers’ Cunningham having to play a lot of minutes to keep Dayton in the game, the rotation of Wiley, McLemore, and Spencer will eventually tire him and allow the Tigers to really work the paint. As long as Auburn can take shots and do a fair job at second chance points, expect the final score to be about the average score differential at 20 points, although the game probably won’t be that close.
With Purifoy returning in next week’s contest against a good UAB team, Auburn’s offensive identity is likely to change. In its loss to Duke, it became evident that Auburn had to develop a way to get to the paint from the perimeter and draw fouls. Try as they might, the Auburn guards of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper were unable to get the rim and draw fouls. Most times, Duke simply swatted the shot.
Last year, Mustapha Heron excelled at getting to the rim, thanks to his larger physical stature. Purifoy can be just as good with his size, ball skills, and ability to shoot from down town. The question is, will Purifoy be in game shape?