AUBURN, Ala. — Bruce Pearl did something rare Saturday night after Auburn basketball’s 79-65 comeback victory over Georgia. He heaped plenty of praise on junior guard Bryce Brown, who scored 25 second-half points to lead the Tigers to their fifth comeback win in SEC play.
The praise went so far that Pearl jokingly sounded concerned about it affecting Brown.
“Bryce Brown has gone from being one of the best defensive guards in the league to being one of the best guards in the league,” Pearl said. “It’s a strong statement, and I wouldn’t make it unless I thought he was getting there. … This is the most I’ve praised him publicly. We’ll see how he handles it tomorrow.”
The numbers back up Pearl’s claim. Brown, who spent his first two seasons with the Tigers as a 3-and-D specialist, is now one of the SEC’s most prolific offensive threats.
|AUBURN GUARD BRYCE BROWN IN 2017-18|
|Points per game||16.4||6th|
|VS. SEC OPPONENTS (KenPom)||STAT||SEC RANK|
|Effective field-goal percentage||57.6||10th|
|True shooting percentage||60.5||10th|
|3-point field-goal percentage||48.1||4th|
Brown is the conference’s top 3-point shooter with 64 makes this season. The next closest is Alabama’s John Petty, who has 56. Brown has become a dead eye in SEC play, hitting nearly half of his attempts from downtown in the Tigers’ 5-1 start.
“That’s all my teammates right there,” Brown said. “They found me in the perfect spots. They found me when I’m not open, found me when I’m open, so I give all the praise to them and the coaches for trusting me and putting me in the position to score.”
After a quiet 1-for-6 start from the field Saturday, Brown caught fire after halftime. He hit a leaning 3-pointer two minutes into the half to cut Georgia’s lead to single digits. He made it a one-possession game less than three minutes later on another 3-pointer. His next one gave Auburn a double-digit lead.
Auburn went from 14 down to 10 up in the span of 10 minutes, and Brown led the charge.
“Speechless,” sophomore guard Mustapha Heron said after the game. “I’m speechless, just like you guys. … They couldn’t do nothing with him. It was fun watching him.”
The way Brown finished the win over Georgia showed his growth as a scoring threat. Brown’s last dozen points came off either layups or free throws. He finished a pair of and-ones that kept Georgia’s late rally at bay.
“He can shoot at all levels,” Pearl said. “We already know how great of a defender he is. He’s a great guard. He’s not afraid.”
At the end of the game, Brown had a sparkling +29 in his plus/minus. He finished with 5 3-pointers, 5 3-throws and 4 layups.
“It shows the coaches how efficient I am, not only on the offensive end but the defensive end as well,” Brown said. “I tried to stick my nose in there and get a couple rebounds, but it’s tough dealing with those giants that they had.”
As for the designation as one of the SEC’s best guards, Brown said he was thankful for Pearl’s words. But the Stone Mountain, Ga., native knew he was getting to that level this season.
“It means a lot, especially my head coach saying it with the amount of players he’s seen and the amount of players he’s coached,” Brown said. “I feel that way as well. I have the confidence I am.
“I started feeling it ever since after the summer. I know I put in the work and my teammates always talked as a team how we were as a team, how we played together. Just playing with these guys gives me the confidence and ability to do a lot on the court.”
Brown’s transformation from specialist guard who drew plenty of ire from Pearl in preseason practices to a highly praised team leader has been one of the stories of the season for Auburn. It’s also changing how teams attack the Tigers, who have several players averaging double digits in scoring.
“Bryce Brown is a tough cover,” Pearl said. “People are starting to now hip-pocket him and just chase him everywhere he goes. He is going to see a different level of attention now, so we will figure out how we will take advantage of that.”
No matter how defenses line up against the junior, Auburn can expect him to continue to pull the trigger from deep and take advantage of hard closeouts with drives to the rim.
And flexing. Expect a lot more of Brown’s signature flexing after hitting shots through contact.
“I never get tired of that,” Brown said with a laugh. “Never, never. I never get tired of that.”