There’s a reason Bruce Pearl tends to put his team through “easier” practices the day before a game.
Yet after his squad fell to Ole Miss at home in its third-straight conference loss, Pearl thought his team needed a tougher workout before hitting the road to take on Missouri.
And so with forward Danjel Purifoy sitting on the sideline (Purifoy suffered an ankle injury against the Rebels on Saturday evening) the Tigers picked up the tempo in the auxiliary gym in Auburn Arena on Monday afternoon.
In a matter of minutes, however, Auburn’s leading scorer Mustapha Heron (16.2 ppg), suffered an ankle injury of his own after driving to the rim in a 3-on-3 contact drill.
“Fortunately he does it jumping up as opposed to landing,” Pearl said. “It looked very painful, and I think more than anything he was scared.”
Heron was helped off the court and to the training room while practice continued.
Later Pearl, thinking he’d be without two of his main scorers in Columbia, called Heron’s father seeking guidance. Should the freshman try to push his limits physically or rest for remaining SEC games?
“Now, Mustapha’s dad’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever, I’m just telling you right now. He’s a big man, he’s in law enforcement. He’s in corrections,” Pearl said on Auburn’s radio show after Tuesday night’s win. “‘He says, tape him up, tell him to take a jar of pain pills, and tough boy pills — he’s playing.’ You just don’t find dads like that.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
Heron kept Auburn in a close game with Mizzou, not by scoring, but by rebounding. The 6-foot-5 guard led the Tigers with 9 boards. Despite a slow shooting start, Heron turned things around on the offensive end of the floor through the final ten minutes of play, scoring Auburn’s last 12 points in its 77-72 win.
“It didn’t really bother me too much,” Heron said after his near double-double effort. “I just tried to not think about it much.”
Instead immediately after the game, Heron was focusing on Auburn’s approaching matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats.
“I think going into Kentucky this is a great win, hard fought,” Heron said. “We’re going to get some rest and be ready to go to Lexington.”
Still, Pearl isn’t completely done with Auburn’s win over Missouri. He’ll watch the game film with Heron, showing him how he can do even more than he already has this season when he’s on the floor.
“He has such impact on the game, and I’m telling you,” Pearl said. “You haven’t even begun to see all of it. I need to watch this game with him to show him how much more he can do to impact the game. He’s really accountable — whether it’s defensive rebounding or making the extra pass, or moving without the basketball — he’s accountable. We’ve got to get him there.”