The Auburn Tigers made things difficult on themselves in their first overtime game of the season in Hartford’s XL Center on Friday afternoon, though they did beat the Huskies 70-67.
After attacking the basket and matching UConn on the boards early, Auburn relaxed and the Huskies took advantage.
Despite another poor shooting performance — Auburn continuously took forced, deep shots on offense after just one quick pass — Bruce Pearl’s team started rebounding again and was spurred by the smart play of point guard Jared Harper.
Auburn has played in a few close games this season, and the young team seems to be getting the hang of high-pressure situations and big stages.
Following a successful trip to Connecticut (Auburn defeated Oklahoma and UConn) the Tigers will enter SEC play having won four straight games and are enjoying one of the school’s best starts in recent history.
Player of the game
Jared Harper: 22 points (8-for-17), 5 rebounds, 5 assists
Auburn doesn’t beat UConn without Harper. The true freshman is listed as being 5-foot-10, but plays like he’s a 6-foot guard.
Harper is not afraid to penetrate and does a nice job of both initiating contact to draw fouls and finishing strong to the rim. Even against a bigger, more athletic UConn team, Harper attacked at just the right moments. It’s clear Auburn is a better team when Harper is aggressive on offense, whether that’s in the paint or from behind the arc.
While the point guard scored 22 points, he kept the Tigers in the game by getting the ball inside to Austin Wiley to start the second half. The inside-out game started opening things up for Auburn, after its guards took lots of forced (and rushed) shots early.
The starter was also a pest on defense and was the only Auburn player to record any steals (4). Harper drew a key offensive foul about halfway through overtime, increasing the Tigers’ time of possession late in the game, which led to more chances to score.
If Auburn ends up in more close games through conference play, having Harper in charge won’t be a bad thing.
Stat line of the game
Mustapha Heron: 15 points (5-for-22), 8 rebounds
Heron didn’t get off to a quick start against the Huskies, but still put on a show for around 200 people from his hometown of Waterbury, Conn., in the stands.
While the freshmen wasn’t as efficient as he usually is, he was a main contributor for Auburn on offense, especially with fewer points from Danjel Purifoy (5). Along with Harper, Heron is fearless when he goes to the rim, which he does, thankfully, a lot.
The 6-foot-5 guard continues to be one of Auburn’s most consistent players, and he doesn’t just score. Heron continues to be one of the best rebounders on the team, which was ultimately a difference in the game.
Stat of the game
Daniel Purifoy: 15 rebounds
Rebounding was a huge key in this game. At one point in the first half, both teams had snatched 15 boards, but UConn went up after following some shots and getting quick putbacks.
Auburn worked its way back into the game by getting active on the glass.
Purifoy, who scored 27 points against Boston College and Coastal Carolina, hasn’t been as productive on offense through Auburn’s last three games. His cold shooting hasn’t stopped him from being involved, though.
The redshirt freshman got his first points off of two free throws just under the 12 minute mark in the second half. He finished with just 5 total points, but stayed on the floor by snatching 15 boards in his 44 minutes.
What’s next for Auburn basketball
Bruce Pearl made Auburn’s nonconference schedule tough in order to prepare his young team for conference play. After battling two Power 5 conference teams back to back, it’s time to go against SEC opponents.
The Tigers will take on the Georgia Bulldogs (8-3) in Auburn Arena next Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU).
Auburn split games with Georgia in 2015, losing on the road in Athens before securing a win at home.
The addition of Wiley comes at the perfect time for the matchup vs. UGA. After going against solid post players in his first ever starts, the 6-foot-11 center will only help slow down Georgia’s Yante Maten. The 6-foot-8 forward leads the Bulldogs in scoring (21 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 per game).