Coming off an exhibition loss to division II Barry University and an offseason full of turmoil, Auburn basketball entered Friday night’s regular season opener against Norfolk State with a lot more questions than answers.
Playing without Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy for the second consecutive game due to eligibility issues, the Tigers began the process of answering those questions with a 102-74 win over Norfolk State. The 102 points scored was the Tigers’ highest-scoring season opener since 1998.
“Our guys are excited about getting off to a good start and playing well,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think the good thing is a lot of guys feel good about the contribution that they made.”
Bryce Brown provided instant offense for Auburn, scoring 18 of the Tigers’ first 29 points. Brown finished the first half with 23 points in 17 minutes and had a career high 31 points on the night. The Stone Mountain, Georgia native is typically a three-point shooter, but scored eight of his 12 field goals from two-point range Friday.
“I’ve been challenged by the coaches to do a little bit more than stand on the perimeter,” Brown said. “They couldn’t stop me from getting to the rim so I decided to just proceed with that.”
Playing in his first game since 2015 after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Desean Murray scored 13 points and added seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
“It felt great being out there again,” Murray said. “I hadn’t played in about two years, so it felt real good to be out there with my team. Last year I watched a lot, and it felt good to be out there to help them out and be able to get this first win at home.”
Despite being undersized at 6-foot-3, Murray played both small forward and power forward Friday. When asked how such a short forward would fit into the SEC, Brown called his teammate “the toughest guy in the league.”
As questions lingered about the university investigation, Pearl emphasized that the process needed to run its course.
“That’s OK because again we are working through this together and we’re spending a lot of time on it,” Pearl said. “I’m not sure how all that stuff gets out, but looking forward to tonight being over. Enjoy the weekend and get ready to go to Charleston while we continue to finish up what we are doing. We aren’t done yet. I still have two players that haven’t been cleared yet. This is a process that has to run its course.”
That said, Pearl acknowledged that some of the damage is self-inflicted.
“We made some mistakes that has brought some attention to our program,” Pearl said. “Obviously we are working through that. You worry about you can control and you have to be able to try to control the operation of your program. The mistakes that we made were self-inflicted.”
Auburn will return to action Thursday against Indiana State in Charleston, South Carolina.