AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn basketball added another win to its record on a dreary Wednesday night on The Plains.
The Tigers hosted Gardner-Webb and then dominated their opponent through four quarters. Desean Murray led the way for Auburn with 20 points and 7 rebounds in the 80-55 win. The junior’s contribution was big, especially since sophomore Mustapha Heron left the game in the first half with a lower back injury (5 points).
Bruce Pearl’s team managed to shut the Runnin’ Bulldogs down and notch its seventh win (7-1) of the 2017 season.
Here are the three key points to take away from Auburn’s win over Gardner-Webb (The Tigers will return to action Saturday against UAB Blazers 4:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. CT). The game will be televised by SEC Network.
The Anfernee McLemore of the future
Whatever Anfernee McLemore ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner should probably be his game day food for the rest of the season.
The sophomore terrorized Gardner-Webb from the second the ball was tipped — literally. He blocked two shots during the first two minutes of the game and sank four 3-pointers before halftime (that’s what he’d finish with).
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, McLemore waited until Auburn had built a significant double-digit lead to pull out all of his acrobatic moves. For example, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound sophomore posterized a Gardner-Webb player with less than ten minutes left in the game (courtesy of Jared Harper). Auburn out rebounded Gardner Webb 50-32 on the night, thanks largely to McLemore’s efforts. He finished with a team-high 11 boards.
It was another solid start for McLemore who showed again that he’s only going to become more versatile in the future. In the future McLemore is going to be a smaller forward in most match-ups, but if he can consistently bring bigger players out on the floor and knock down mid-range shots (the 3-point range is a bonus) it’s going to open up a whole new world of possibilities, making him even harder to guard. Imagine that.
Runnin’ with the Bulldogs
Gardner-Webb played with obvious effort, but was outmatched and overpowered by Auburn. The visitors were athletic and certain players were capable, but the team as a whole displayed an average basketball IQ.
The visitors finished the night with 10 turnovers. Part of that is a credit to Auburn’s defense, but it also provides insight into the careless errors Gardner-Webb made. Overall, guards tried too hard to make things happen or draw fouls, which led to rushed shots and bad turnovers. In reality, Auburn probably let its opponent get too comfortable at times on offense and had opportunities to force more turnovers.
Down low some post players were willing to battle while others attempted to get crafty in the paint. Neither strategy did much, though. Gardner-Webb’s bigs couldn’t do much more than score around the rim (lots of tip-ins) and move the ball from the elbow. That made Gardner-Webb extremely easy to defend.
Eyes of the Tigers
Pearl deserves some credit for his ability to keep his players locked in through Auburn’s first 8 games. With all of the drama and speculation surrounding the program his team has still looked eager to take the floor every time out. Those aren’t easy circumstances to just shake off.
There was every reason not to be pumped about the Wednesday night game. Finals week and cold weather on The Plains didn’t help matters. Auburn Arena was far from full and fans were not captivated by the action on the hardwood.
Still, Auburn basketball played and sparked their own intensity. It started when Malik Dunbar screamed at the end of Auburn’s player intro video (the one with all the fire and shirt ripping). After big blocks and made shots, but also just in the huddle during timeouts, Pearl’s team looked like it was having fun.
Based on what the Tigers have shown in that regard through the non-conference schedule to this point, there’s a good chance Auburn is going to be psyched and ready when it faces a quality opponent come SEC play.