Auburn's trip to the Holy City got off to a rough start Thursday night, as Murray State cruised to an easy 79-59 win over the Tigers at TD Arena on the first day of the Charleston Classic. The 20-point margin does not do the Racers justice, as Murray State led by 30-plus most of the night.
Murray State (2-0) used a hounding defense and an electric offense, led by Wooden Award candidate Isaiah Canaan to befuddle Auburn at both ends of the floor all night. The Tigers managed to shoot just 33.3 percent from the field, compared to 54.0 percent for the Racers. Auburn's 3-point shooting was off all night, as the Tigers finished 2 of 10. Both 3s came from Jordan Price with fewer than four minutes remaining in the game. Murray State, on the other hand, connected on 11 of 23 3s.
Centers Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and Rob Chubb led Auburn (1-1) in scoring, picking up 12 points apiece. Dixon-Tatum grabbed eight rebounds, and Chubb came away with seven. Chubb was in foul trouble most of the game, and the majority of his offensive output came in the second half when the game had been decided for some time. Frankie Sullivan, who scored 26 points to lead Auburn to a win in the season opener against IPFW, contributed just seven points, five rebounds and a block against Murray State, and he left in the second half with an apparent arm injury. His status going forward is uncertain.
Canaan led all scorers with 26 points, hitting 3 of 5 3s. He scored 20 in the first half and took just six shots in the second. Stacy Wilson hit 4 of 5 from behind the arc and contributed 18 points for the Racers.
For Auburn, Thursday night's performance was a horrible flashback to the kinds of rough nights the Tigers experienced in 2010-11, Tony Barbee's first season on the Plains. Auburn looked totally outmatched and had no ability to create on the offensive end. The Tigers looked impatient and too easily made unforced errors in the face a Murray State's pressure defense. And to make matters worse, Auburn's free-throw woes returned -- the Tigers were just 56.7 percent from the line.
Murray State is a good team, maybe even a great team. The Racers lost one game in the regular season last year and and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32. Canaan is one of the best players in the country, and he's surrounded by a roster full of talent. But make no mistake, this was a big test for Auburn, and the Tigers failed miserably. Barbee's team was not expected to win this game, but if it is as improved as we'd all like to believe, this game should not have been out of hand midway through the first half. Auburn's new faces looked lost against the Murray State, and the veterans looked like they simply couldn't play with the Racers' talent. That has to change.
Really, Auburn played the same game it played against IPFW. The only difference is that Murray State is an NCAA Tournament team, whereas the Mastodons will likely finish in the middle of the Summit League standings. The Tigers should be commended for continuing to play hard late in the second half of a blowout, but playing hard isn't going to win this team any games -- it has to play better. There's still plenty of basketball left to be played, including a date with College of Charleston tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. How Auburn bounces back and performs against the Cougars on their home court will show what this team is made of. That's the Tigers' next big test.
Auburn failed the first test, but there's still time to make something of the Charleston Classic and leave with a boost in confidence.