AUBURN, Ala. — Nothing helps stock soar like two consecutive wins.
The Tigers are off to their best start since the 2007-2008 season after defeating Mercer and Oklahoma earlier this week.
Freshman Mustapha Heron was arguably the most important player in Auburn’s takedown of Mercer. T.J. Dunans and Austin Wiley, the new addition to the squad, were also huge factors this week.
The Tigers will play UConn on Friday afternoon in XL Center, but so far this week, Auburn’s stock has risen significantly. Here’s why:
- When you share a birthday with the game of basketball, you better be ready to put on a show. Luckily, Dunans was. The senior guard saved the day with a last-second (unplanned — the ball was supposed to go to Jared Harper on the play) 3-pointer on Sunday in Auburn Arena. His game-winner was impressive, but so was his stat line. Dunans finished with 13 points, 3 assists and 5 rebounds. Though Dunans had been out of control at times since the season started, he was a calming presence on the floor for Auburn. That trend continued against Oklahoma. Dunans scored a career-high 21 points against the Sooners, adding 4 rebounds and dishing 5 assists. He will have to play well again for Auburn to defeat the Huskies at home.
- There aren’t enough good things to be said about Heron. His smart, physical play was the difference in Auburn’s win against Mercer. The true-freshman guard continues to exude veteran-like skills and make great decisions. Though he scored 21 points against the Bears, his 2 late assists (1 to Wiley and the other to Dunans on the last shot) help explain just how valuable he is. Besides his scoring efforts, Heron continues to be all over the boards for Auburn, too (he’s the leading rebounder with 6.7 per game).
- Wiley’s first week as a college athlete was memorable, to say the least. He arrived on campus last Thursday, went through his first practices and received an ovation as he stepped onto the court for the first time against Mercer. The center’s presence alone made Auburn better, which explains why Bruce Pearl gave the 17-year-old his first college start against Oklahoma on Wednesday. It’s clear that as Wiley has time to settle in, he’s going to become big-time for Auburn. He battled Oklahoma’s experienced post players and even improved his stat line, scoring 6 points and grabbing 3 rebounds.
- Though Horace Spencer and Bryce Brown no longer are suspended, the sophomores didn’t play against Oklahoma. The two may have lost their starting roles for good. With Dunans playing well, TJ Lang resurfacing a bit (he had 16 total points in the last two games) and Wiley down low, it looks like Brown and Spencer are starting from the bottom. It might be easier for Brown to earn back his starting spot because he’s one of the best shooters on the roster. Still, it’s going to be tough for either to do so heading into SEC play.
- Pearl hasn’t been afraid to go with young players this season. The coach had been starting three freshmen for the first time this season and added Wiley to the lineup on Wednesday night. Though it’s a risky move and resulted in a few mixups on offense, Pearl continues to make the best decisions about his lineup and for his team. There might be a few mistakes here and there, but the Tigers are going to be better in SEC play because of Pearl’s actions.