AUBURN, Ala. — Between the constant turnovers and weak fouls, Georgia State literally handed Auburn plenty of chances to take over early on Monday night.
But it took a late first-half spark from the increasingly steady hand of Auburn true freshman point guard Jared Harper for the Tigers to pull away in their second game of the season.
Auburn opened the first of four games in the Cancun Challenge with a 83-65 home win over Georgia State. Harper and redshirt freshman Danjel Purifoy led Auburn (2-0) with 19 points each, and true freshman guard Mustapha Heron nearly posted a double-double in his second career game.
“Individually, it was kind of fun to watch Jared Harper take over… we got pretty good point guard play,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said afterwards. “Danjel learned a lesson about foul trouble tonight. People are going to go at him and try to get him in foul trouble, because we’re not nearly as good a team offensively without him.”
Player of the game
Jared Harper: 19 points (4-for-6 on 3-pointers), 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals
It took a little while for Harper to get going Monday night. But when the shots started falling for the Georgia native, he was doing a little bit of everything for the Auburn offense — hitting contested 3-pointers, driving to the bucket and dishing his teammates for easy baskets.
“We struggled a little bit shooting the ball,” Harper said. “I tried to dish it out to my teammates and and get them going. But then I saw that it pretty much upon me to get the team going.”
Harper has clearly taken over the point guard battle between himself and senior transfer Ronnie Johnson through the first week of the season. He’s arguably the most consistent shooter on the team, and he generates plenty of havoc with his defense.
Stat line of the game
Auburn’s first-half shooting box score vs. second-half shooting box score
The Tigers got off to a slow start from the field, and they weren’t able to take advantage of a high rate of turnovers and fouls from Georgia State.
After Harper caught fire just before halftime, the blaze spread to the rest of the team out of the locker room. The Tigers started hitting a much-higher percentage of their shots from all over the floor.
|Half||Field goal||3-point field goal||Free Throw|
|1st||11-28 (39.3 percent)||3-12 (25.0 percent)||10-19 (52.6 percent)|
|2nd||14-25 (56.0 percent)||4-9 (44.4 percent)||16-20 (80.0 percent)|
According to Harper, Auburn’s defensive mindset led to the better overall play after halftime.
“I think we just locked in defensively,” Harper said. “Maybe in the first half, we had a lot of turnovers that led to easy baskets. In the half-court, our defense was good. But we controlled our turnovers more, and we made it easier for us to be able to defend.”
Jared Harper goes on a late first-half scoring outburst to give Auburn a solid lead.
Auburn was tied at 28 with Georgia State with two minutes remaining in the first half, as the Tigers couldn’t take full advantage of a nearly seven-minute field-goal drought from the Panthers.
But shortly after Georgia State got back on the scoreboard, Harper drilled a pair of 3-pointers and knocked down a free throw in the span of a minute.
Auburn went to the halftime break with a 7-point lead, and the visitors never led again. Purifoy took over with 19 second-half points after playing limited minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
“I’ve thrown a ton at this team really, really early and we kind of slopped through a lot,” Pearl said. “But I’m very pleased. I thought we had great effort and energy … I thought going in at halftime with the lead having Danjel only played three minutes was really significant.”
Play of the game
Horace Spencer throws down the hammer on a behind-the-back pass from T.J. Dunans.
— Sam Butler (@_sam_butler) November 15, 2016
Auburn takes on Eastern Kentucky (1-1) in its second home game of the Cancun Challenge.
The Tigers will host the EKU Colonels on Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. Eastern Kentucky defeated IUPUI, 97-87, in its season opener and lost to UNC Wilmington in overtime on Monday night. EKU went 15-16 last season in the Ohio Valley Conference in its first season under Dan McHale, a former Seton Hall and Minnesota assistant.
Auburn is now 2-0 for the first time since the 2011-12 season, when Tony Barbee’s Tigers opened up an 8-1 start in the nonconference schedule.
This season’s Auburn team will travel to Cancun, Mexico, next week for the third and fourth games of the Cancun Challenge. Auburn will play Texas Tech and then either Utah State or Purdue.