Tigers Take Down Dayton, UAB Up Next
Bryce Brown scored 34 points against the Dayton Flyers (photo: USA TODAY Sports)
The Auburn Tigers never trailed Dayton, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any drama. If you quit watching at halftime when it was a 51–32 blowout, you would have missed a pretty good game.
The Flyers are a very talented team, and despite the first half onslaught where Auburn forced turnovers time and time again, Dayton quietly crept back to within six points early in the second half. The size of the lead constantly changed, but the only issue was how many points the Tigers responded with each time the Flyers went on a run. When all was said and done, the game ended with Auburn winning 82–72 final score, fairly representative of the lead it held most of the game.
Dayton isn’t enjoying quite the year it might have expected for a reputable mid-major team. But, then again, what is to be expected under Anthony Grant? The former Alabama Crimson Tide coach let the Tuscaloosa program languish before eventually being fired. Still, the talent on Dayton’s team was obvious. The Flyers out-shot and out-rebounded Auburn in most phases of the the game.
Dayton stayed in the game for two reasons, and Auburn dominated for a sole reason. First, Dayton shot extremely well from downtown, hitting 48 percent of its three-point attempts. It seemed like every time Auburn sank a dagger to end a Dayton run, the Flyers would run down the court and bury a long ball. Contested, long range, it didn’t matter. The Flyers hit every other shot.
The other reason they stayed in the game was second-chance points. On the off chance they missed a shot, Auburn was unable or unwilling to box out in the paint and keep Dayton from easy tip-ins. In all, the Flyers had 14 offensive rebounds, which should never have happened with Auburn’s trio of big men.
Despite the shooting statistics, the one thing that really mattered was Auburn’s ability to force turnovers repeatedly. The Tigers forced 23 turnovers, which was especially big in the first half when Auburn jumped out to a tremendous and likely unconquerable lead. The 23–10 turnover margin could have been worse as Jared Harper, who may be the best point man in the conference, was uncharacteristically sloppy in the second half.
Coach Bruce Pearl had his team slow down the pace in the second half, which put a lot of pressure on Harper. Pressure is something Harper is great with, but putting the ball in his hands more than usual led to some Auburn turnovers simply because of the time of possession. In addition, he and Bryce Brown continued to improve their slashing to the bucket even though it wasn’t effective in this game and led to several blocks.
While Harper might have had a few turnovers, he was spectacular on offense. He had 20 points on 4–7 long-range shooting and a perfect 6–6 line from the charity stripe.
However, the story of the night wasn’t Harper but fellow guard Bryce Brown. Part of what is tabbed by many as perhaps the best back-court in the SEC, if not the nation, Brown had a career night scoring 34 points. At one point, he hit four consecutive long balls. He was white hot in the first half, although he cooled off in the second half and finished with a 6–13 line. He hit almost 50 per cent from downtown, and that’s why he’s earned the nickname, Downtown Bryce Brown.
The Auburn backcourt did all of the heavy lifting, causing coach Pearl to have some choice postgame words about his players in the SEC Network interviw. In particular, Pearl was not fond of Chuma Okeke’s performance as he scored just two points in the last game before Danjel Purifoy’s return. Okeke wasn’t quite absent from the stat line as he had a trio of steals and a couple of blocks. But, Pearl was vocal about his disappearance on offense after starting the year hot. His three rebounds were half his usual totals, and his points were a season low. This was a game where Okeke needed to battle if he wanted to retain his starting position.
The rest of the Tigers weren’t sharp on offense, either. Samir Doughty and Austin Wiley chipped in eight points apiece, minuscule in comparison to Harper and Brown. Malik Dunbar was completely off against the Flyers, attempting two threes and air-balling both of them. This game was a chance for several players to make a statement before Purifoy returned, but nobody seemed up to the challenge.
Purifoy has now finished his suspension following the FBI probe. The 6-foot, 7-inch forward averaged 11 points in the 2016–2017 season as a freshman. Readers may recall that he had to sit out the previous year because the NCAA clearinghouse wouldn’t clear him academically. As a freshman, Purifoy was a streaky player who would have five or six straight games in double figures followed by a streak of low single-digit finishes. Expect him to emerge more mature and ready to take on a larger role. Purifoy can do it all, which makes him an intriguing player.
Auburn hasn’t quite figured out its rotation, and at this stage of the season, it seems that forcing Austin Wiley into the lineup is causing some issues. The question is, whose minutes are going to suffer? Will Wiley or Okeke lose minutes? We will see when Auburn takes on UAB Saturday at 6:30 in Birmingham.