AUBURN, Ala. — It was far from a masterpiece, but Auburn basketball painted a picture of what to expect this season on Friday night.
Bruce Pearl’s young Tigers are going to have active hands on defense, a fast-paced style of play and the greenest of lights to shoot from deep.
Oh, and program-changing true freshman guard Mustapha Heron is ready to roll.
Heron led the way for the Tigers in almost all areas of their 96-68 exhibition win over in-state Division II foe Montevallo on Friday night inside Auburn Arena. The true freshman was a stabilizing force for Auburn after a sluggish start, and he came out firing after halftime to put the game completely out of reach.
Player of the game
Mustapha Heron: 26 points (9-for-12 FG and 3-for-5 3PT), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals
While redshirt freshman forward Danjel Purifoy got off to a hot start Friday night, the 5-star true freshman from Connecticut led all scorers and played a great all-around game. He also led the Tigers with 3 steals, including one that led to a wide-open dunk on a fast break.
Even though he’s the highest-rated signee in program history, Heron wasn’t automatically expected to be the top scorer for this Auburn team. But he got in a rhythm and stayed in it, which is a great sign for these young Tigers heading into regular-season play.
Stat line of the game
The true freshman from Georgia is locked in a position battle with Houston transfer Ronnie Johnson for the starting point guard job. Harper got the start Friday night, and he looked like the better option of the two floor generals.
Harper’s stat line didn’t quite reflect the impact he made on the game. Despite going 25 percent from deep and only contributing 2 assists, he was one of the best on the team in plus/minus with a plus-22. He looked calm and collected throughout the night for the Tigers.
Bruce Pearl lights a fire into his young team after a sloppy opening 10 minutes.
At the halfway point of the first half, Auburn only held a slim 20-16 lead over Montevallo. The Tigers were struggling with a high rate of turnovers and didn’t have much going for them defensively.
But after a quick Pearl timeout, Auburn went on a 28-15 run that included a streak in which it hit 7 of 8 consecutive shots and a long turnover-free stretch. Montevallo never trailed by fewer than 15 points after that strong end to the first half by the host Tigers.
Friday night was the one and only exhibition contest for Auburn. The Tigers open the regular season a week from Friday night with a home game against North Florida (9:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network+).
The visiting Ospreys went 22-12 last season, winning the Atlantic Sun’s regular season title and earning a bid to the NIT. Their most notable matchup against the SEC last season was a 119-108 road loss to future No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Ben Simmons and LSU.