Simply put, Thursday was not a good day for Auburn Basketball. Early Thursday morning, we learned that 2 of the team’s best players, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, would be suspended indefinitely due to the ongoing FBI investigation. On Thursday evening, Auburn fell 100-95 in overtime to Division II Barry University. One of the biggest differences in the game was the disparity in 3-point shooting. Barry was 16-41 (including a buzzer beater to send the game into overtime) while Auburn was only 3-20. Here are some of my first impressions on this Auburn team.
· Coach Pearl’s starting lineup for tonight was Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, DeSean Murray, Mustapha Heron and Horace Spencer. Anfernee McLemore was the first substitute off the bench and he could very easily move into the starting lineup. Heron led the team with 21 points and Jared Harper had 20 points and 7 assists.
· In Wiley and Purifoy’s absence, guys like Spencer, McLemore, and Chuma Okeke must step up and produce more than what was expected of them. Each player played over 20 minutes and played well in spurts. McLemore led this trio of players with 17 points and 7 rebounds while making some terrific plays on the defensive end. Okeke had 7 points and 7 rebounds. Spencer added 6 points and 2 blocked shots.
· Auburn had chances to put this game away in the 2nd half. The Tigers led by 8 with about 8 minutes left but the Buccaneers continued to respond with 3 pointers to stay within striking distance. Barry is ranked #12 in the Division II Rankings so despite their classification, the Buccaneers are a good team. They nearly beat Miami in an exhibition game last year. That Hurricanes team went to the NCAA Tournament.
· Defense and rebounding were key components that had to be improved this season and this game did little to limit those concerns. Barry out-rebounded the Tigers 42-41 and Auburn consistently left shooters wide open all night. When Barry would try and take the ball into the paint, the defenders would collapse on them and leave guys wide open from distance. Sometimes you have to tip your cap and Barry made Auburn pay by converting a lot of those good looks given to them.
· I recall an exhibition game 2 years ago against the University of Indianapolis that Auburn won in Overtime. This game was eerily similar to me as Indianapolis made 14 3-pointers that evening while Barry made 16 last night. Barry isn’t the first Division II school to beat a Division I school in an exhibition. Several years ago, Syracuse lost to LeMoyne in an exhibition. The Orange were a #1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament that year. In 2015, Iowa lost to Augustana but went on to go to the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament. Last week, #2 Michigan State struggled against Division II Ferris State. I’m not saying that Auburn is going to the NCAA Tournament, but the point is, these things happen. It’s important to realize that this was only an exhibition game and it doesn’t count against us. Auburn can learn a lot from this game to build on going forward.
· As far as the suspensions go, while this may seem unpopular, I think it was a smart decision by Auburn to go ahead and sit the players. There is no reason for the team to play them, only for them to later be ruled ineligible thus potentially compromising Auburn’s season. With uncertainty that the suspended players are eligible, Coach Pearl has made the decision not to play them for the time being and we’ll just have to wait and see when or if they will be able to play for Auburn this season.
In conclusion, this isn’t the end of the world for Auburn. Many people have already written off this team based on the suspensions and this game tonight. Keep in mind that this is a young team that’s lost 2 of their starters, and they now face the reality that they will have to play without those guys for the foreseeable future. While Wiley and Purifoy are not going to be easy to replace, this team still has the talent to have a good season. Auburn will learn from this and will be better because of it. The Tigers will play their season opener against Norfolk State next Friday night at Auburn Arena. War Eagle!