Bruce Pearl shifted his team’s focus following Auburn’s abominable defeat at South Carolina. Instead of turning his attention to the Tigers’ next opponent, Pearl studied film of his own group and the team went through (at least one) two-a-day.
Those efforts, at least in part, contributed to the Tigers’ success in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Mustapha Heron got off to another good start and Austin Wiley helped Auburn finish off the Horned Frogs at home. Though Auburn led TCU in most stats, the Tigers showed their youth when they got sloppy in the game’s final minutes.
Still, Pearl’s squad was able to hold on and help the SEC add another W on the day, beating TCU 88-80.
Players of the game
1st Half: Mustapha Heron
The Tigers couldn’t afford to get off to a slow start in Fort Worth after their horrendous loss to South Carolina. Auburn would also need, with Danjel Purifoy missing from the starting lineup, a scoring boost against the Horned Frogs.
No one understood those two things quite like Mustapha Heron.
Heron has taken over games at different points through the season, but the freshman didn’t waste any time on Saturday evening. He controlled the tempo immediately, nailing 5 of his first 6 attempts. The 6-foot-5 guard finished the first half with 15 points (6-for-10) in just 15 minutes of play (in case you forgot, Heron came in averaging 15.4 points per game).
2nd Half: Austin Wiley
Surprisingly, Heron came out in the second half far less aggressive (the freshman made his only second-half FG attempt) than he began the night.
Fortunately, Austin Wiley picked up where Heron left off. After picking up a couple of fouls in the first half, the freshman center scored 21 second-half points, dominating the Horned Frogs down low.
Wiley played smart and stayed out of foul trouble, but also increased his physicality and was efficient from the floor (11-for-13 FG). Wiley was the difference for Auburn on both ends of the floor.
Key stats of the game
Auburn headed to its locker room with a 2-point halftime lead mostly thanks to Heron, but he wasn’t the only one who made a difference. For most of the game, the Tigers led TCU in rebounding and came up with more bench points and second chance points than the Horned Frogs.
Point guard Ronnie Johnson had another one of those quiet efforts that kept the Tigers in the game. When starting point Jared Harper became limited by two fouls he picked up, Johnson checked in and maintained Auburn’s attack, dropping 4 assists and adding 6 points in the first half (he’d finish with 6 assists, only second to T.J. Dunans, who recorded 7).
Anfernee McLemore was another reason Auburn led in those important statistical categories.
Coming off of his best game yet (McLemore had 18 points in his last time out) the freshman forward was perfect from the floor (6-for-6). McLemore finished with 13 points and 5 rebounds.
Wiley couldn’t stopped through the final 20 minutes of play.
With 13:44 left on the clock, Wiley scored on a slam dunk, kicking off a run that helped Auburn take the biggest lead of the night. Less than a minute later, the freshman tipped in another basket.
And it didn’t stop there.
Wiley had another powerful dunk with just under 10 minutes left that put the Tigers up 67-59. From that point on, it was all Auburn in Schollmaier Arena.
What’s next for Auburn basketball
The Tigers return home and to SEC play, facing off against the Tennessee Volunteers on Tuesday at Auburn Arena (9 p.m. ET, SEC Network).
Though the Big 12/SEC Challenge is over, it doesn’t mean things get any easier for Auburn. Pearl mentioned Tennessee a few weeks ago, recognizing his former team as the hardest working in the conference.
The Vols quickly proved him right, upsetting No. 4 Kentucky in Lexington before beating Kansas State on Saturday afternoon. Tennessee has won four of its last five games (4-4 SEC). Unlike other teams Auburn has played of late, Tennessee rotates and gets contributions from about 11 players on the roster.