Defense, or lack thereof, restricted Auburn’s success last season. The Tigers gave up 79.6 points per game last season – which ranked No. 315 in the nation.
So far this season, the Tigers have appeared to turn a corner defensively.
Auburn held Gardner-Webb to just 55 points Wednesday night, en route to a 80-55 blowout victory over the overmatched Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Gardner-Webb shot just 35.7 percent (20-of-56) from the floor and 27.3 percent (6-of-22) from three-point range. The Tigers forced 16 Gardner-Webb turnovers and scored 24 points off of them.
“The defensive effort was outstanding. Gardner-Webb is a good offensive team and if you allow them to run their stuff, they will score,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “That’s the best defensive effort from start to finish we’ve had in a long time.”
Desean Murray led Auburn with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range.
Sophomore Anferenee McLemore finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds to go along with a career-high six blocks. The double-double was the second of McLemore’s career, with the first coming in Auburn’s 73-60 victory over Dayton last week.
McLemore entered the night 2-of-9 from three-point range in his career, but knocked down all four of his three-point attempts Wednesday night.
“I was just feeling good,” McLemore said. “In shoot-around I felt real good. I felt like my shot was on so I decided to launch a couple of them and they went in so I just kept shooting.”
McLemore now has 30 blocks through eight games this season. Last season, he had 37 in 32 games.
“McLemore continues to play great. It was fun to see,” Pearl said. “He’s not made four (3-pointers) in practice in a row but he’s capable of it.”
The Tigers started the game on a 21-4 run which led to a 42-28 lead at the half. Auburn led by as many as 30 points in the second half.
“We jumped on them early, and we stayed on them,” Pearl said. “We hardly let down. That was really positive.”
Auburn’s leading scorer Mustapha Heron left the game Wednesday in the first half with back spasms. He scored five points in nine minutes, but Pearl said there is concern with him going forward.
Sophomore guard Jared Harper scored just five points but recorded a career-high 10 assists.
The Tigers out-rebounded Gardner-Webb 52-30, which led to a 21-12 advantage with second chance points.
Gardner-Webb, which fell to 3-7 on the year, was led by David Efianayi, who finished with 16 points. Jaheam Cornwall scored 11 points for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Auburn (7-1) will return to action on Saturday as it hosts UAB at 3:30 p.m. CST inside Auburn Arena.
“UAB will probably be the most athletic team that we have played,” Pearl said. “I encourage all of our fans, even though it is the holidays, to come out for that one. It’s going to be a great environment. It has been a great series, and we’ve managed to squeak out two very hard-fought wins.”