AUBURN, Ala. — When the Auburn basketball team takes the floor for its first appearance in Madison Square Garden on Monday night, the Tigers could feel, at least temporarily, as if they’re staring in a mirror.
When the ball is tipped, Auburn will face off against a Boston College team in rebuilding mode. And just like the Tigers, the reconstruction is being led by a roster filled mostly with freshmen and sophomores.
“They’re an ACC club that obviously struggled last year in the ACC,” head coach Bruce Pearl said. “They’ve rebuilt. They’re a lot like us in the fact that they’ve got some very nice, young, talented players. They’ve played a tough schedule. Losing to Richmond, losing to K-State, losing to Harvard, those are teams that are pretty good teams. Harvard beat us last year. It will be a good matchup.”
While the game will be special because of the historic venue and Pearl’s familiarity with the Eagles — the head coach graduated from BC in 1982 and started his coaching career as a student assistant — adding another win to Auburn’s 6-1 start continues to be most important to the Tigers.
To leave the Big Apple with a win, Auburn first must contain BC guard Jerome Robinson. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound sophomore is averaging 18.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and has help from forwards A.J. Turner (9.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Connar Tava (7.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg).
“Robinson is a terrific guard. He’s the best guard we will have played up to this point,” Pearl said. “He’s good for 20 a night, and he’s a tough cover. They do a lot of really good things to get him the ball.”
Unlike in recent matchups, Auburn won’t be outmanned in the paint or outmatched by bigger bodies on the boards. Still, the Eagles possess a few key advantages.
“They’re deep,” Pearl said. “They play a lot of guys, so fatigue won’t be a factor. They’ll be more familiar with New York. They’ve already been in the Barclays Center, played two games in the Garden and they’re used to being in that environment, whereas it will be very new for us.”
But Auburn’s young team is becoming more comfortable adjusting to college ball. After struggling to put together a complete game, Auburn started to turn a corner, especially defensively, in its last outing against UAB in Birmingham.
“We didn’t panic too badly for being as young a club as we are, and our second-half defense was terrific,” Pearl said. “Down at the other end, they guarded, they competed, they adjusted on their own away from our bench. They didn’t get beat on the boards in the second half. We attacked better.”
Freshman point guard Jared Harper sparked his team from the 3-point line through the first half (5 of 6) and nailed several clutch free throws to secure the win in the final minutes.
The Tigers looked better offensively, too. They attacked and created fouls while limiting turnovers. Though seemingly simple, the improvements were a focus Pearl emphasized to prepare for future opponents like BC.
So, while the arena might be bigger and more prestigious, the goals won’t change. Pearl expects his team to continue working on rebounding, improving defensively and sharing the ball between its young standouts.
If the Tigers can do those things and earn a road win against an ACC team, then the outcome becomes a little more significant.
“I see an ACC club that puts 8-9 in the NCAA tournament per year against (an) SEC club that only put 3 in the tournament,” Pearl said. “It’s one we have to get from the standpoint of representing our league.”
Auburn basketball on Monday night
Projected starting 5
* Blocks per game
** Steals per game
About the game
Boston College (4-5) vs. Auburn (6-1)
Game time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
TV: FS1 (Joe Davis, Bill Raftery, Shannon Spake)
How to watch online: WatchESPN
Follow live stats: AuburnTigers.com