Sure, it wasn’t pretty. Sure, Auburn nearly gave the game away at the end of regulation. Sure, Mustapha Heron and Danjel Purifoy were lousy on the offensive end.
But we are watching a very young team grow up before our very eyes. And a win on the road at a notoriously tough place to play is quite impressive when you consider Auburn started four freshmen, one of which has been with the team all of a week.
Austin Wiley could be playing in a high school Christmas tournament this week, but boy am I glad he is not. He is the missing piece to the puzzle for this Auburn team. His inside presence is crucial, even though it may not always show up in the stat sheet.
Jared Harper played his best game in his very young Auburn career, and it could not have come at a better time. Mustapha Heron shot 5-21 in this game and Purifoy waited until overtime to hit his first shot, making 1-9. Someone had to step up. Harper stands at 5’10” barely, but he was 10 feet tall and bulletproof in the second half.
You have heard me say that sometimes shots don’t fall in basketball, and you must rely on defensive effort and rebounding to carry the day.
Auburn did that in Hartford, playing solid defense down the stretch and outrebounding the Huskies 49-45. I was especially proud of Purifoy and Heron for not hanging their heads when the shots didn’t fall, and going to the glass on the defensive end.
T.J. Dunans played well at times in this one as well, but his flagrant foul near the end of regulation when Auburn had a 6 point lead nearly made him the goat (not to be confused with G.O.A.T.).
I am still by no means in love with Auburn’s offensive system. They rely too heavily on the 3 and settle for contested jumpers early in the shot clock. This was very evident in the first half. I would like to see Purifoy get to the rim more often with dribble penetration.
Auburn also needs to go inside more to Wiley. He can score around the rim which will open up the outside game. It is definitely a work in progress.
But this Auburn team is unselfish, and they play defense well enough that they can play with anyone.
Auburn has matched their win total from last season, and they continue to improve. If they continue to play selflessly and defends the way they do, this team can reach 20 wins and be in the conversation for a bid to the NCAA tournament at the end of the season.
I am very excited to watch this group grow. They are getting there. It isn’t always pretty, and today is a great example, but this team is on the verge of being very special.
SEC play starts next week at home against Georgia. Here’s hoping for a packed house at the Arena to begin conference play.
War Eagle everybody!!