AUBURN, Ala. — Once again, Auburn basketball needed to shake off a rough start to pick up a win.
But Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers got it done Thursday night, rallying in the second half to knock off Eastern Kentucky, 85-64, in an opening round game of the Cancun Challenge.
After shooting less than 30 percent for most of the first half, Auburn turned up its game on both sides of the ball to put its small-school visitors away. The Tigers are now 3-0 heading into the main portion of the Cancun Challenge, which will take place next Tuesday and Wednesday south of the border.
Pearl took the podium after the game to talk Auburn’s strong start to the season, its cold-shooting spell for the early part of the night, and the all-around performance of true freshman guard Mustapha Heron.
Here are the highlights from Pearl’s postgame press conference, along with quotes from Heron:
- “Our defense continues to carry us. When you hold a good offensive team like Eastern Kentucky to the percentages we held them to, that’s good to see.”
- “The physicality made the difference … our most physical players really stepped up.”
- “Our depth was definitely a factor in the outcome.”
- Pearl on Ronnie Johnson: “Ronnie will win us games. Games. He did that tonight. He’s rock solid. He also helped us on the defensive end.”
- Pearl was surprised at the free-throw shooting tonight. He said it got in Jared Harper’s head this evening, along with Mustapha Heron.
- “We took advantage of some things. But our offensive execution is not what it needs to be.”
- “We settled (in the second half). I think Mustapha started it off. He big-boyed them. That’s what he was supposed to do.”
- On his perfect night from the field: “It feels good. It was a building block for Cancun.”
- “It was key to let the defense collapse and open things up. Get to the free-throw line.”
- “I try to rebound as much as possible with my season.”
- “I’ll definitely be in here tomorrow shooting free throws.” Heron went 7 for 13 from the line tonight.
- On adjusting to the pace: “We do that because we practice like we play. And the scout team gets us ready. They did it against North Florida and Georgia State.”