Another night, another big game for Auburn's freshmen.
Danjel Purifoy had an excellent night, again, but tonight's game against Eastern Kentucky belonged to Mustapha Heron. The former 5* recruit finished with 24 points and 10 on the night, and a lot of them were hard fought going to the glass, for his first double-double. He powered his way through and abused some of Eastern Kentucky's smaller players to spark the Auburn offense at a time when it really needed it.
Things started off well for Auburn, as the Tigers opened up the game with a 10-2 lead. It looked like the Tigers would run away with this one, but the Colonels weren't having any of it. They went on a huge run and actually led for the majority of the 1st half. It wasn't until the final minutes of the half that Auburn retook the lead. It wasn't necessarily because EKU was playing great defense. It was more that nothing was going in the basket for Auburn.
The Colonels, meanwhile, were knocking down 3s and hitting free throws. Auburn's free throw attempts - and there were plenty of them - were not falling with anything approaching regularity. That alone kept EKU in the game far longer than they should have been in it.
Bruce Pearl kept the team in the locker room a bit longer at the half, and when the Tigers came out, it was obvious that whatever he said worked. The Tigers slowly pulled away from the Colonels and finished up with a big win thanks to the efforts of Heron, Purifoy, and graduate transfer Ronnie Johnson who went over 1,000 career points on the night with double-digits in scoring and also had a number of beautiful assists, as well.
Auburn is now 3-0, something it's been a long time since we could say. They'll go on the road for the next stretch of the Cancun Challenge, which will actually be in Cancun against Texas Tech next Tuesday at 5pm Central.
Things I Think
This Team = Still Lots Of Fun. The start was frustrating, that's for sure, but they overcame that slow start and played an excellent second half. The first half struggles were due to shots just not going in the basket and poor free throw shooting. Which leads to...
Free Throw Shooting Is Going To Cost Us A Game Or Two. The Tigers were just horrible from the stripe, tonight. It was bad. This game could have been a much larger victory and the Tigers could have had a much larger halftime lead if they were knocking down even half of the free throws they missed. That's going to cost the Tigers in a close game - probably more than one - if it doesn't improve.
The Freshmen. They're Good. Mustapha Heron - who hasn't exactly struggled in his first two games - showed why he was so highly recruited, tonight. 24 points and 10 rebounds are huge. Auburn needs another good rebounder, and he was one of the only Tigers not having trouble with his field goals. He did struggle with free throws some, though. Meanwhile, Purifoy was second on the team in points scored, again. Anfernee McLemore played limited minutes but what he played he made the most of with some great put-backs and play around the rim. I hope to see his role expanded as the season goes along. Harper continues to be a great point guard.
Ronnie Johnson Needs More Minutes. The graduate transfer went over 1,000 career points tonight and was on the dishing end of a fantastic pass to Mustapha Heron on a break. He and Harper provide an excellent 1-2 at the point, and I don't think Auburn loses anything with either one on the bench. They're not the same player, but what they do they do very well and it compliments the other players on the team.
Having Depth Is Awesome. I said it during the game on Twitter, but it's so nice to be able to say "man, I wish __ would get more minutes" as opposed to "man, we do NOT need ___ to be on the bench!"
Enjoy the weekend of football. We'll be back with our UNDEFEATED Auburn basketball team next Tuesday!