So I looked at the box score at the under 12 timeout. Auburn led the game 72-37 at this point. A 35 point lead in a game where Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron, Auburn’s 2 leading scorers had combined for just 14 points. To me, this was simply mind-boggling. Today, as we’ve seen throughout this season, was a total team effort, both offensively and defensively.
89-64 was the final score, a 25 point victory over national power UConn, a 4 time national champion since 1999, the last time Auburn started 11-1. And it really wasn’t even that close as the Tigers led by 35 at points in the 2nd half. Yes, this is not a vintage UConn team and fatigue surely played a factor after the Huskies played Arizona in Tucson on Thursday evening. However, after watching that game Thursday, I felt like if the Tigers could push the tempo and make shots, Auburn had a good chance to win the game. Quite frankly though, this was a beat down from start to finish that I don’t think any of us expected. A beat down from start to finish is something that we haven’t seen too many times from Auburn this season or in quite a long time, especially the finish part. Auburn jumped on UConn early and didn’t let up. Coach Pearl clearly had his guys ready to play and the results clearly showed that. We’ve seen games where one guy, whether it be Heron or Brown, go off for 20+ points in the first half of games. Today however, the leading scorer had 13 points. In so many ways, today was a welcome change from games when Auburn would jump out to big leads early only to have to hold on for dear life at the end.
Five players scored in double figures today and this came on a day when the Tigers shot just 29-72 (40.2%) from the field. Auburn made 12 3-pointers and were efficient from the free throw line (19-23). They also outrebounded the much taller Huskies and held them to just 34.3% shooting for the game.. On the broadcast, a lot was made at the beginning about UConn’s major height advantage against Auburn. That didn’t matter. Horace Spencer was a point away from a double-double, Chuma Okeke had 8 rebounds and Mustapha Heron had 7.
Now, let’s take a quick look at where Auburn has come from. This was a team that lost two of it’s best players due to eligibility issues and then lost their exhibition game. To be honest, the expectations for this team were not very high at that point. Now, as Auburn has 1 game left on their non-conference schedule, the Tigers have navigated through all the distractions and currently sit at 11-1. Bruce Pearl seriously deserves Coach of the Year consideration for what he has accomplished. Not just in the SEC, but nationally as well.
Even though it wasn’t their best games today, Mustapha Heron and Bryce Brown have stepped out to be the scoring leaders. Jared Harper is becoming a great point guard from his passing game as well as his clutch 3-pointers from Harpersville. Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer have stepped up and have been fantastic rim defenders, among other things. Auburn has gotten great contributions from their 4 newcomers to the team. Presbyterian transfer DeSean Murray has added another scorer to the lineup but mostly, he is having success on defense despite his height disadvantage. Chuma Okeke has been a great addition off the bench and has become more consistent as the season has gone along. Malik Dunbar has made clutch baskets, especially these last 2 games and has attempted to take the roof off of Auburn Arena a time or two. He will eventually and the place is going to absolutely explode. And finally, Davion Mitchell has given Auburn a second point guard to team with Jared Harper and he has done a great job in that role. There have been games when each of these guys have stepped up and made major impacts on the outcome of games and that’s an encouraging sign going forward with this team.
What we have seen so far is truly a team effort that is trying to make Auburn Basketball relevant on the national stage. They got 4 votes in the Top 25 poll this week and I fully expect more votes in this week’s poll. Hopefully, we get a resolution on the status of Wiley and Purifoy sooner rather than later. I want both of them to come back more than anybody but whether or not they do the fact of the matter is this, this team has the potential to make noise in conference play. Bruce has taken the team that he’s had to work with so far and gotten maximum effort out of his players.
Finally, it was good to see a great crowd at Auburn Arena today. Hopefully when conference play rolls around beginning in 2 weeks, the crowd and atmosphere from today can be matched and raised to another level. This is a fun Auburn Basketball team, a very good Auburn Basketball team and they deserve to have the Auburn Family backing them like they did today. War Eagle!