Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics
Jared Harper dropped 24 points in Athens, Ga., on Saturday.

Instant analysis: Auburn basketball easily tops Georgia in Athens without leading scorer Bryce Brown

Even without one of its best players, Auburn basketball managed a flawless start on Saturday afternoon in Athens, Ga.

The early perfection was the work of point guard Jared Harper, who began by sinking his first four shots with Auburn’s leading scorer Bryce Brown watching from the sidelines (shoulder).

Bruce Pearl’s team jumped on an early lead and though the Tigers didn’t quite maintain their hot start, the group played well enough to keep Georgia at bay in an overall ugly game.

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Georgia dd its best to battle back against Auburn, but could never quite gain an edge. With Brown looking on, Harper and Mustapha Heron teamed up and took over, scoring 24 and 19 points respectively. The result was another double-digit win and a 2017-18 series sweep of the Bulldogs.

Auburn basketball will celebrate Valentine’s Day with a home game against Kentucky. Before Pearl’s team shifts its focus to the Wildcats, here’s three takeaways from Saturday’s 78-61 win:

Box score 

If there was ever a time for an injury…

Injuries are always unfortunate, but if there was ever a time for Auburn to not have Brown at its disposal, it was Saturday against Georgia.

The Bulldogs have struggled this season and did not play particularly well in their second game against Auburn. The road matchup provided an opportunity for Malik Dunbar to start in place of Brown. It was a chance for the transfer to get more comfortable on the floor heading into a tough SEC stretch.

Dunbar looked a little unsteady and didn’t play very well, but it didn’t play into the outcome much. In 27 minutes, Dunbar only scored 7 points, but he added 6 rebounds.

Dunbar has made big shots and been an important contributor at times so far this season, but he also needs to continue finding ways to do more — both in terms of his basketball and leadership. For example, About halfway through the second half, Dunbar was involved in some trash talking that ended in double technicals. As one of the older players on Pearl’s team, Dunbar needs to be a calming presence, not someone who easily loses his cool.

With Brown’s status unclear heading into a big week for the Tigers, Dunbar needs to use the coming games to prep for the madness that will ensue in March.

Auburn has to be Auburn

In the final minutes of the first half, Georgia pulled within three points of Auburn as the Tigers struggled to score.

That’s because after a relatively smooth first half, Pearl’s team started to get away from its game. Auburn started taking quick shots and turned the ball over a couple of times because they were dribbling too much.

Georgia wasn’t really doing anything to frustrate Auburn, but the Bulldogs were hitting shots and taking advantage of the Tigers’ self-inflicted mistakes.

Auburn has gotten itself into trouble this season when players have gotten down the floor quickly and started to jack shots after one pass or so. The Tigers are at their best when they are calm, poised and staying within themselves.

That’s how Auburn played the second half — returning to its normal ways. As a team Auburn played its best in the final ten minutes or so of the game, finishing on a high note heading into a big home game.

March could be Chuma Okeke’s month 

Chuma Okeke could be one of Auburn’s most important players in the coming weeks and during the month of March.

While Harper and Heron (and of course, Brown) will handle the majority of the scoring duties for the Tigers, Okeke offers a strong defensive presence and is capable of lending a hand on offense, too.

Okeke converted a 3-point play and connected on a deep 3-pointer in the second half that helped Auburn maintain its lead. The freshman is at his best when he’s aggressive on both ends of the floor and looking to score. He’s figuring out how to use his versatility and how to be a ball player for Auburn.