Auburn basketball’s final game in the Charleston Classic was a valuable stepping stone in the right direction as the holidays approach.
The Tigers didn’t put together a stellar first half, but it could have been far, far worse. Auburn shot well from the field early, but also allowed Hofstra to score 50 first-half points. That’s not great for fending off critics or skeptics who have disparaging opinions about Auburn’s defense.
Games completely change, though (typically in a team’s favor), when going on 18-0 runs to start the second half. And that’s exactly what Auburn did on Sunday night. A strong start after halftime led Auburn to a 89-78 win.
As is the case with most games, there were good things and not-so-good things. Here are the three key points to take away from Auburn’s victory against Hofstra in Charleston, S.C. (The Tigers will return to action Friday at 7 p.m./6 p.m. CT in Auburn Arena when they take on Winthrop).
Auburn struggled with the little things too much last season, but that’s to be expected when the starters are mostly freshmen.
However small, there were signs of positive change that should serve the Tigers well in the months to come.
One of the most striking changes to me, even against a “lesser” opponent such as Hofstra, was that Auburn’s full-court pressure looked a bit better. There were times last season when Auburn played timid in its press. It was almost as if Bruce Pearl’s team was looking to chew clock rather than create chaos.
The Tigers were aggressive and gambled on some of Hofstra’s cross-court passes. Even if Auburn didn’t come up with every turnover, it’s a good sign that Pearl’s team was willing to be aggressive and imposing. That adjusted mindset could also bleed into other parts of the team’s game, which wouldn’t be a horrible thing.
Moving forward, Mustapha Heron must do more
The initial response to that headline is: But Mustpaha Heron led Auburn in scoring and played 29 minutes. How much more can he do?
It’s true that the sophomore poured in 22 points and recorded one of the highest plus-minus ratings on the team. It was a great night for Heron considering the slow start he’s had through the Tigers’ first few games. There’s no doubt Heron is one of (if not) Auburn’s best player, especially with Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy missing in action.
Heron’s efficient. He was 8 for 13 on the night, which is impressive. However, that’s not an extremely high shot total for a team’s top player.
Some players tend to force out-of-control shots or struggle with shot selection. Heron’s basketball IQ is high enough that he could force (and probably make) some tougher shots than the average college player — whether it’s in the paint or from the outside.
Other players on the team don’t seem to think twice about putting up a quick shot. Heron should adopt that mentality. If I’m Pearl, I’m asking Heron to put up a minimum of 15-20 shots per game. We’ll go from there based on how that goes.
An alternate ending
Remember last season when Auburn basketball panicked and nearly handed its opponent bad wins? That didn’t happen against Hofstra.
At times in 2016, Auburn got too comfortable or completely melted down in second halves. The fact that Heron and Bryce Brown found ways to step up in the final minutes of the game is a good sign. That shows the duo is willing to take on more responsibility when it’s needed.
Auburn junior Bryce Brown will have to take on more responsibility with Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy sidelined (Ben Wolk/SEC Country).
Auburn also shot the ball relatively well from the free-throw line. This is another small improvement that led to some scary final minutes last season. Pearl’s team is showing signs that it can build a significant lead, then hold onto it and finish strong.