TJ Lang having two fouls, Kareem Canty with one, and Cinmeon Bowers with a Technical before four minutes have even passed in the game is never a good thing. However, at the first media timeout, the Tigers led 12-6 over the Blazers. That's a good microcosm of the game as a whole: fouls were a plenty, yet so was great play.
Auburn started hot, dropping three three-point shots, but the refs were using some very liberal interpretations of new rules and Auburn ended up needing to be careful before much time had run off the clock.
That didn't stop Bruce Pearl's team from playing hard, though. They were out to a 14point lead (30-16) with 6:12 to go in the first half thanks to some terrific defense and great rebounding. Horace Spencer's first points as a Tiger were on an offensive board and a put-back. He also had a good block and showed that he's going to be a real force defensively for the Tigers early on.
UAB came charging back with a late first half run, though. They went on a 9-0 run as the half was closing to cut the lead to 38-35. Kareem Canty helped the Tigers regain a bit of the momentum with two free throws to extend the lead back out to 5 points, but a foul was called under the basket with less than 5 seconds to play and UAB cut the lead to 40-37 at the break.
The Blazers came out fast in the second half. They managed to get the game tied at 42 with around 18 minutes to play, but Bowers went to the rim on the other end quickly to get the lead back to the Tigers. A series of fouls and big three point plays put the Tigers back up to an 8 point lead with 12:30 to play in the game, 59-51.
UAB was a different team in the second half, driving quickly to the basket. The early play of the second stanza was a constant back and forth of quick action. At one point there were 4-5 steals, blocks, bad passes, etc in the span of around 10 seconds. Auburn managed to keep the lead between 5-8 for most of the middle second half.
UAB made it interesting again when they pulled within 1 point thanks to some pour lay up attempts by Bowers. Auburn pulled back out in front again, though. For the majority of the game, UAB was never closer than 3 points. With 27.9 seconds to go in the game, the Blazers got their first lead at 74-72 thanks to a TJ Dunans foul and a basket by UAB.
Auburn came right back with a TJ Lang three pointer to take the 1 point lead with 10.2 to play in the game, though. UAB had 10 seconds to pull off the win, but as they drove for the basket Horace Spencer did what he does best. The freshman swatted away the UAB shot, TJ Dunans grabbed the ball, and the Tigers walked away with a 75-74 victory over the in-state rival and 2015 NCAA Tournament team.
Three Things We Learned:
1) Horace Spencer The Rim Defenser. It looks better with the English spelling of Defencer just because of the way you spell his last name. Either way, it's so refreshing to see the Tigers with a player who is such a threat for shot blocks and is also excellent on the boards. He got the walk-off block to win the game. He played lights out. This is a kid with a very bright future for the Tigers, and I can't wait to see what he can do in the future.
2) Will Auburn find scorers to replace KT Harrell and Antoine Mason? Yes. Yes they will. We suspected that was the case after last week's exhibition against Indianapolis. Multiple players were in the high teens or low 20s of points. TJ Dunans, Kareem Canty, and Tyler Harris were all in that range, tonight. There are players on this team that the Tigers can count on to score points.
3) This team is some depth away from being good. Maybe even very good. Yes, it's probably way too early to say that. It's only one game, after all. However, Auburn had no business controlling the majority of this game in the manner that they did. Seven scholarship players available? Against a team that returned all five starters from an NCAA Tournament team? That's amazing. Auburn played with so little available off the bench and still led for the entirety of the game until there were 30 seconds to play. There will still be plenty of struggles, but this is a team with so much potential.
Auburn really had no business winning this game, tonight. We knew Bruce Pearl's second team was going to be better than his first team, but there were still so many injuries that I expected the hot start to taper off and UAB's depth on the bench to win the day. Instead, Auburn kept playing solid defense. They kept hitting shots when they needed to. They did whatever it took, and they walked away victorious for it.
This team has so many new names over last season. Those new names made the difference. Kareem Canty, Tyler Harris, and TJ Dunans provided the most offense. We lost two great scorers, and we appear to have gained three to replace them.
Horace Spencer is amazing. What a game for a freshman in his first actual game. He's a joy to watch play defense, and it's been a while since Auburn has had a big man like that capable of defending the basket.
When this team is healthy, they're going to shock some people. Yes, it's early. No, I'm not trying to predict that they'll make the NCAA Tournament. They are going to be a much tougher team to play than last year's edition of Auburn Basketball was, though.
The Tigers are 1-0. War. Damn. Eagle.
UPDATE: Here's a .gif of that walk-off block:
Horace Spencer secures the win with (another) big time block! pic.twitter.com/tbPvyygGG0— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) November 14, 2015