AUBURN, Ala. — Three games into his Auburn basketball career, Mustapha Heron’s numbers already have raised plenty of eyebrows.
Heron went a perfect 8 for 8 from the field Thursday night against Eastern Kentucky. He leads the team with 7 rebounds per game following his first career double-double — a 10-board performance. The Connecticut native ranks inside the Top 25 nationally in number of fouls drawn per 40 minutes with 10.8, according to KenPom.
Then there are the numbers that put it all in perspective: Heron is Auburn’s best rebounder at 6-foot-5. He’s also just 18 years old.
Yet the young Heron is a big-time presence for Auburn, as he showed in his 24-point night in Auburn’s 85-64 win over Eastern Kentucky. When the shots weren’t falling from the outside for the Tigers, Heron took his smaller matchup down low and dominated.
“We settled, and again, I think Mustapha started it off,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said Thursday night. “We got him the ball, posted him up a couple of times and drove it down in there and he big-boyed them. And that’s what he’s supposed to do.”
Heron is Auburn’s second-leading scorer through its 3-0 start to the season, behind redshirt freshman forward Danjel Purifoy.
Although Heron is the first 5-star signee in Auburn basketball history, his game isn’t necessarily the high-scoring type. He looks to fill every area of the stat sheet — especially rebounding.
“I try to rebound as much as possible with my size,” Heron said. “I think my first good play came from a rebound, when I passed it to Danjel and he got fouled. That kind of helped me get started up.”
Heron controlled the action in the second half with his length at the wing. He scored 15 of his 24 points and collected 6 of his 10 rebounds after halftime against Eastern Kentucky.
The freshman guard made an emphasis on playing more in the paint in the second half. Heron showed a nice array of post moves and continued to crash the boards. His inside game created more chances for the Auburn offense, which shot 22 percent better in the second half than it did in the first.
Mustapha Heron's motor has been on another level tonight. He's been outmuscling everybody down low.
— Sam Butler (@_sam_butler) November 18, 2016
“When the defense collapsed, it kind of opened it up,” Heron said. “It helped me get to the free-throw line and just helped me to continue playing my game.”
But Heron couldn’t look back at his entire third game with fondness.
Heron went 7 for 13 from the free-throw line, which is something he said would stick out to him more than the perfect night from the field.
“Definitely will be in here tomorrow shooting free throws,” Heron said.
The tougher night from the free-throw line will push Heron forward in his development as he makes his first road trip as a Tiger. Auburn will head to Cancun, Mexico, next week for a matchup against Texas Tech and then a game against either Purdue or Utah State.
Even with all the good-looking numbers in his third college game, Heron sees plenty of room for improvement in himself and his teammates.
“It’s a building block going into Cancun next week,” Heron said. “I think it’s a good win. I didn’t think we played that well as a unit. We kind of picked it up as the game went along. Hopefully we’re ready to go out and play when we get to Cancun.”