We’ve reached the quarter-pole mark of Auburn’s Basketball season. Through 8 games, Auburn is 7-1, the best start for the team since the 2011-2012 season. Hopefully, this team will finish better than that team as that Auburn team finished the year 15-16. Auburn has seen several guys step in the absence of Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley whose eligibility remains up in the air. Before exiting Wednesday night’s game with back spasms, Mustapha Heron came into the Gardner-Webb averaging 23.3 points per game over his previous 4 games. As it stands now, he along with Bryce Brown lead the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game each. Brown failed to reach double figures in scoring Wednesday night for the first time this season, but he has consistently played good defense on the opponent’s top scorer. He’s also not solely relied on the 3-point shot as he’s been willing to take the ball to the basket more often this season. It was good to see Desean Murray have a good night against the Runnin’ Bulldogs. He had 8 points before the first TV timeout and shot 8-12 from the field overall. He led the team in scoring with 20 points and added 7 rebounds. In his previous 2 games, he had combined for just 3 points, on 3 free throws.
Anfernee McLemore has been spectacular for the Tigers and has moved his way into the starting lineup. McLemore had 17 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocks in Wednesday night’s win over Gardner-Webb. In his last 3 games, he has at least 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in each game while averaging 11.7 points over that stretch. McLemore is also working on adding the 3-point shot to his game. He was the first guy on the court before the game Wednesday night working on that shot and he went 4-4 from 3-point range. McLemore has 30 blocks so far this season and his 3.75 blocks per game put him in the Top 5 in the NCAA in that category. Imagine the possibilities of having McLemore at the 4-spot with Austin Wiley playing center. That would be quite a tandem, but we’re hypothetically speaking here.
Three of the things that I thought would be critical going into the season would be defense, rebounding and free throw shooting. While the defense is still a work in progress, Coach Pearl called his team’s defense against Gardner-Webb the best he’s seen in a long time, only giving up 55 points. If Auburn can hold teams into the 60s, they have a chance to win a lot of games with the offensive skill players they have. Auburn has outrebounded each of their 8 opponents and had a season-high 52 rebounds in Wednesday’s game. Auburn is shooting 75.3% from the free throw line so far, this season up from last year when they shot just 67.2%. Yes, it’s early, but these things are good signs for a team looking to improve and become a possible contender in the SEC and make the NCAA Tournament. The SEC is going to very good this year. I think there are at least 6 teams that will make the Big Dance this year, and maybe 7 or 8 teams depending on how SEC play goes.
Auburn has 5 nonconference games left before SEC play starts on January 2 and we’re going to learn a lot about this team over this stretch. Auburn takes on a pair of Conference USA teams in their next 2 outings. They host UAB on Saturday, and then play Middle Tennessee in Birmingham on December 16. After that, they will play at Murray State on December 19 and host Connecticut on December 23. Auburn closes non-conference play with Cornell on December 30. UAB is a veteran team with a lot of athleticism that will certainly test Auburn and give them a glimpse of what they will face in SEC play.
Lastly, I want to bring up attendance because it hasn’t been great. This team has played in about a half empty gym for most of their home games, especially the last two games, and Auburn Arena has been very quiet over large stretches of these games. I know there’s a lot of things going on in the program, but this team deserves better than what they are getting. UAB will bring a lot of fans to Auburn Arena on Saturday so hopefully people will come and support Auburn because this team deserves to have some fan support behind them. It was a 75-74 thriller over the Blazers 2 years ago when they came to town and it was one of the best atmospheres for a game that I’ve been to in my 3 years here in Auburn. This team is 7-1, getting better and deserves to be appreciated for overcoming the adversity they have faced so far, this year. If you can make it to Auburn Arena Saturday, please do so. Hopefully you will enjoy watching this team as much as I do. War Eagle!