AUBURN, Ala. — In several ways, Auburn’s Sunday afternoon matchup against Mercer will be a fresh start for the Tigers.
Last week was difficult for Bruce Pearl’s team, but the week developed into one of the best in Auburn history.
The Tigers tied an SEC record for 3-pointers (21) in a 117-72 win over Coastal Carolina on Thursday night before 5-star center Austin Wiley enrolled in school and immediately became eligible to play Friday afternoon.
The prized recruit’s arrival came as Bruce Pearl’s young squad responded to the week’s challenges with a much better performance against the Chanticleers.
Forward Anfernee McLemore had one of his best games in an Auburn uniform, dropping in 8 points and snatching 9 rebounds. Though his opportunity came (at least partially) because of Spencer’s suspension, the freshman capitalized on his opportunity, likely earning a chance for more minutes.
Now Auburn will have the chance to incorporate Wiley, their truest post presence, against Mercer. The Bears will be yet another tough mid-major opponent (the Bears defeated the Tigers at Auburn Arena in 2015).
“They’ll play us both man and zone,” Pearl said. “I expect to see a lot of zone. Bob (Hoffman) is known throughout the country as one of the better X and O guys.”
Hoffman is a key piece as to why the game against Mercer will be valuable, regardless of how Auburn plays or how Wiley performs in his debut, .
“The fact that they’re really well-coached means they do really good stuff,” Pearl said. “And if we can guard that stuff, then it’s just helping us become a better basketball team because when we play against better teams that have better talent, they don’t necessarily run better stuff, they have better talent, and so there’s a tradeoff there.”
Wiley, McLemore and senior forward LaRon Smith will have the chance to go against 6-foot-9 forward Desmond Ringer and 6-foot-6 forward Stephon Jelks. The duo plays significant minutes and averages around 6 points and 5 rebounds each per game.
Auburn will try to continue the improvements made last week despite the changes to its lineup and the new addition to the team.
“It’s the same prep, it’s the same message, and so they won’t see the coaching staff letting down for one bit,” Pearl said. “Therefore, hopefully they won’t also, and they’ll be looking forward to the challenge and continue to build on what we did (Monday) night against Coastal.”
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Projected starting 5
* Blocks per game