Shorthanded Tigers take down UAB
Winning games is never easy with star players watching from the sidelines. Bruce Pearl knows all about this, with two of his key players having sat all year. Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, both expected to be key members of a team with tournament aspirations, are sidelined as the NCAA investigates the wide-ranging scandal that has plagued many of college basketball's star-studded rosters.
On top of that, Auburn's best player, sophomore Mustapha Heron, was forced out of the starting lineup with back spasms. With that kind of production missing from the court, Pearl needed increased production out of his seasoned vets.
The first to answer that call was Bryce Brown. After an up-and-down 2016 season, the junior guard is off to a hot start. During the team's four game slate in Italy, he averaged a team-best 18.3 ppg, and against this season's competition, Brown is scoring just over 17 points per contest. Against UAB, he may have played his best game to date.
Brown shot 8 of 14 from the field, including 6 of 9 from behind the arc, to lead the Tigers with 27 points. 23 of those points came in the first half, where Brown helped to race Auburn out to a seven point halftime lead. After the game, head coach Bruce Pearl discussed how important Bryce Brown is to his team's lasting success.
"Bryce Brown is playing really good basketball," Pearl said. "We need him to make shots and he has certainly stepped up"
But Brown was not the only Auburn player to step up when needed. Jared Harper, another player who ran hot and cold in 2016, came up big against the Blazers.
Harper scored 21 points against UAB, including a pair of clutch free throws to help put the game away. Harper also led the team in assists with five, a welcome sign to many Auburn fans who felt he spent last season neglecting point guard's responsibility to spread the ball around. With Harper and Brown shooting lights out, Heron healing from injury, and the imminent return of Austin Wiley, the Tigers are undoubtedly headed in the right direction.
The 85-80 victory moved Auburn to 8-1 on the season, their best start since 2011. And while some fans may be worried about a repeat of last year's fade down the stretch, Auburn's 2017 roster features a deeper roster with veteran players more than capable of righting the ship.