AUBURN, Ala. — If Bruce Pearl has a good feeling on game days, he usually keeps it to himself.
But when the Auburn basketball team walked into Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, Pearl uncharacteristically shared his thoughts with Auburn radio personality Rod Bramblett.
Pearl expected Auburn to play well. He also predicted Danjel Purifoy — stuck in a slump after an ankle injury against Ole Miss in early January — would reemerge against the Tide.
Much like his team, Pearl was dead on with his prognostication.
For the first time since 2009, Auburn completed a regular-season sweep of Alabama. Purifoy scored 14 points , as many as he’d totaled in the his past four games combined, with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. He also went 4-for-7 on 3-point attempts.
What Pearl wasn’t banking on was his team shooting 56 percent from the 3-point line, going 15-for-27. The Tigers went 5 consecutive games without making double-digit 3-pointers.
Before the game, Pearl was blunt with his freshman class. If they hoped to leave a legacy, Pearl said, they had to start by beating Alabama every chance they had.
Auburn’s scorching percentages from 3-point range helped the Tigers achieve that feat this season, but the 3-point line won’t provide a road map to a possible postseason appearance.
“Defense is our main part and rebounding,” said sophomore Bryce Brown, who hit four 3-pointers against Alabama. “We played defense early and most of the second half (against Alabama), that’s what got us the lead, especially at the second half. We got a little relaxed at the end of the game. As long as we do those three things, play hard, play together and rebound, we should be fine.”
Purifoy echoed Brown’s sentiments about the importance of rebounding in his post-game interview.
Freshman Anfernee McLemore put together some of his best performances this season by crashing the boards for put-backs. Last week against Tennessee, McLemore had 11 rebounds; he grabbed 8 on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
“Coming off the bench I saw that’s an area we need to improve in, so going into the game I knew I needed to grab all the ones I could get,” McLemore said. “I was really focusing on myself to get the rebounds I could so we could pull away in the game. Without rebounding we would have been further behind than that.”
Pearl’s undersized Auburn team often failed to win the battle on the boards this season even with the addition of 6-foot-11 center Austin Wiley, who joined the roster in mid-December.
The Tigers aren’t getting any taller between now and the SEC Tournament in March, but rebounding could be the key factor that catapults Auburn basketball into the postseason.
“Rebounding has probably been our biggest weakness,” Pearl said. “We were probably one of the poorest rebounding teams in the country. We have to address that.”