SAN DIEGO — Auburn basketball is going to dance with the one that brought it to March.
The Tigers’ perimeter shooting was key to their SEC championship campaign and their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2003. But Auburn has shot less than 40 percent in six of its last eight games, including an admittedly ugly 62-58 win over the College of Charleston in the first round.
No. 4 seed Auburn didn’t hit a single 3-pointer in the first half for the first time in 137 games. It finished the game shooting just 20.8 percent from deep, which was its second-worst performance in that area this season.
But don’t think the collective shooting slump will keep the Tigers from firing away Sunday evening in a second-round matchup against No. 5 seed Clemson (6:10 p.m. CT on TBS).
“We just keep shooting,” junior forward Malik Dunbar said Saturday. “We know they’re going to fall. All of us put up a lot of shots. A lot of us live in the gym. Eventually they’re going to drop. They can’t not keep dropping. They’re going to fall eventually.”
Those shots eventually fell down the stretch for Auburn against the College of Charleston. Auburn hit 5 of its 11 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half, including two go-ahead ones by Bryce Brown and Jared Harper in the final 2:05.
“We just have to stick with making shots,” Brown said. “We did late in the second half last game. We just have to get more of that going on. I feel like we moved the ball a little better. That’s probably going to lead to better shots, allowing us to make them.”
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said Saturday the Tigers needed to do a better job of taking advantage of opportunities in their transition-based, spread-it-out offense. But he was quick to say Auburn was “not going to start being more of a post-up team.”
“I think we will shoot better from the perimeter,” Pearl said. “We have no choice. We’ve got to be able to knock down shots, and we have to get better looks. And, believe it or not, we have to be more patient not to shoot the first one that’s open.”
Six of Auburn’s first seven attempts on Friday against the College of Charleston were 3-pointers. All of them were misses. The Tigers can still make their living with the jump shot, but junior forward Desean Murray said they can do a better job of easing into it.
“Just get some shots up and get that confidence in ourselves,” Murray said. “Get some open shots and get in more of a rhythm before you take the 3. Get yourself in the game sooner and then take the 3. Just have more confidence in yourself that you can hit that shot.”
Murray and his teammates were unanimous in the locker room Saturday after Auburn’s practice at Viejas Arena in San Diego — the confidence in the long-range shot hasn’t changed.
Brown erased an 0-for start in the first half with a 3-pointer in transition just seconds into the second half Friday. His late 3-pointer was a pull-up jumper. So was the one from Harper, who wasn’t able to get in his usual offensive rhythm in terms of facilitating.
Brown said the adjustments he made at halftime should be able to carry into the start of the Clemson game, now that he and his teammates have played 40 minutes inside the unfamiliar venue.
“In the first half, my shot was kind of flat,” Brown said. “That’s not the way I’ve been shooting all season. I’ve always had a great arc on my shot, and I’ve always had a good follow-through. … Coach corrected me on that, and it helped.”
Pearl also wants Brown to correct another area of his shooting game Sunday against Clemson.
“I gotta have Bryce try and be more patient early in the game,” Pearl said. “And then once he makes one, then we’re going to feed the monster and let him go. I thought he forced things a little bit too much trying to get himself going and as a result his percentages haven’t been as good.”
Auburn might not have the same fire-at-will attitude early Sunday evening against Clemson. But the Tigers’ perimeter shots will continue to rain in San Diego.
A few bad offensive performances aren’t going to change the strategy of a jump-shooting team that is 33 games into its best season in nearly two decades.
“We’re all shooters,” Brown said. “I don’t lose any confidence. That’s probably a part of my problem. But I know my guys. They don’t lose confidence when they shoot the ball. We keep it the same with every shot we take.”