It wasn't a pretty game, and Oklahoma was missing their leading scorer Jordan Woodard, but the Tigers - who started four freshmen - won their first game in Connecticut this week 74-70 over the Sooners.
This game was very ugly early, with neither team shooting the ball well. The score was 34-22 in favor of the Tigers at the half. A 12 point lead is a fantastic thing to have going into the break in college basketball, as is holding your opponent to only 22 points in a half. However, only scoring 34 yourself in that situation is less than optimal.
The scoring picked up in the second half with each team dropping more buckets. At least twice Auburn was able to build to a double-digit lead only to see the Sooners pull back to within 1-2 possessions minutes later with the Tigers going cold.
One of Auburn's primary issues was being without Danjel Purifoy for much of the game. Purifoy could hardly enter the game before he picked up another foul. He had two before there were 5 minutes gone in the opening period, he picked up his 3rd early in the 2nd half, and his 4th not long afterward. He didn't score many points, but he picked up 7 rebounds, and that was a huge part of the Tigers' victory.
Oklahoma did play without Woodard, but the Tigers played without Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer for the second game in a row. They may be off their suspension, but Bruce Pearl is making them earn their way back into their roles on the team.
Amazingly enough, Auburn finished the game with more rebounds than Oklahoma. A staggering 36 of them were defensive rebounds to 11 offensive, where Oklahoma's were split with 20 offensive and 24 defensive boards.
Offensively, the night belonged to Jared Harper and TJ Dunans. The two were creating opportunities, making spectacular plays, and draining shots. Harper's free throw shooting was on point, going 11 of 12. Auburn definitely works best when Dunans is on his game. Mustapha Heron continued his steady play, too, dominating the rebound numbers with 12 and scoring 15 points in his usual quiet but reliable manner.
It was ugly, but it was a win. No, this year's Sooners are not last year's. They were without their leading scorer. Still, a win over them in a marquee match-up is a big step for this very young team.
Things I'm Thinking
Harper is getting better with every game. He's getting better at running the point, getting better at shooting free throws, getting better at passing the ball off, getting better at making plays. He's going to be very special.
Tonight was a big step forward. Auburn still didn't have Brown or Spencer and Purifoy spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble. Other Tigers stepped up. They didn't get rattled when shots weren't dropping, and they kept playing their game.
Still need to learn how to finish. At least three times, Auburn held double-digit leads. Auburn needs to be able to put their foot down as they did in the Coastal Carolina game - even when the threes aren't dropping - and learn to control the lead. I know Bruce likes his teams to play fast and loose, but sometimes moving the ball around and using clock can be a very good thing. Don't give the other team a chance to make runs and build momentum.
Auburn won their first game in Connecticut. Now, they'll face the UConn Huskies this Friday afternoon at 1:30 Central.