When Presbyterian College's Desean Murray made Auburn University his transfer school of choice prior to the 2016 season, the forward might have expected to make a few adjustments for the SEC.
In just his first few practices with the team, the Stanley, North Carolina product saw "a big change" from his time in the Big South.
"I feel like I fit in really well with the team," Murray said in July of 2016. "I'm trying to find my position because I'm really switching between the three and the four. The team, I love it. I feel like it's going to be a big connection; we're going to have a lot of chemistry."
For his rebounding skill as an undersized big man, the 6-foot-4 Murray was drawing comparisons to Charles Barkley from Auburn faithful.
"I can't say that I compare to anybody because I like to think of myself as a different kind of player," Murray said. "I'm going to make my own game."
Murray’s team is projecting as a 2-seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, a feat that likely wasn’t on the now-starting power forward’s shortlist of expectations back in the summer of 2016.
Getting the nod at the four spot in favor of a larger frontcourt lineup in Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore together, Murray has bloomed into a jack of all trades for No. 11 Auburn (20-2, 8-1 SEC). The forward is shooting a career-high percentage from three while averaging 11 points, seven rebounds and a pair of dimes per night.
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Thanks in large part to Murray’s relentless motor, Auburn has positioned itself squarely atop the Southeastern Conference -- now two games in front of Florida after the Gators’ loss to Georgia Tuesday night.
Like the newcomer predicted a year-and-a-half ago, the Tigers’ chemistry has shot through the roof, evident in the team’s conference-leading clip of 86 points per game. At this offensive rate, Auburn is on pace to notch the highest PPG mark in the SEC in 22 years (1996 Kentucky, 91.4 PPG).
Also in line with statements made in Murray’s initial summer on The Plains: he’s still garnering comparisons to the Chuckster.
Murray had arguably the best game of his Auburn career in a win over LSU on Saturday, Jan. 27, scoring 18 points with three assists and eight boards, six of which came off the offensive glass.
Despite his undersized stature, Murray’s exertions led to an out-rebounding of LSU seven-footer Duop Reath, and consistent second chances on offensive possessions that aided Auburn in its 95-point explosion. According to Murray, getting rebounds, even against LSU’s frontcourt forest, was “not that hard.”
Highlights from Auburn's dominant 95-70 victory over LSU last night pic.twitter.com/bxyEQhJfxH— The Auburn Plainsman (@TheAUPlainsman) January 28, 2018
Taking notice of Murray’s Swiss Army knife temperament on the floor and his confident demeanor off it, guard Mustapha Heron let fall the assessment again.
“It’s like I’ve said before, he’s our Charles Barkley,” Heron said after the LSU win. “He does the things that nobody else wants to do.”
The thing LSU head coach Will Wade didn’t want to do was coach against Murray.
During Wade’s stints at VCU and Chattanooga, Murray was a top prospect coming out of Northside Christian High School in Charlotte. The Bayou Bengals’ first-year leader knew all too well that Murray possessed the capability to wreak havoc in the SEC.
“Oh gosh, I haven’t seen him since he was at Presbyterian,” Wade said. “He has an unbelievable motor and is always around the ball. He goes and gets the ball. I love Murray…he’s a high-motor guy.”
Murray flirted with a double-double in Auburn’s win over Ole Miss on Tuesday in a similar performance to his LSU outing, tallying nine points, 10 rebounds and three assists.
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As per usual for the board-collector, Murray’s aptitude to crash the glass when his team possesses the ball was pivotal -- five of the 10 boards came offensively.
Amid a historic season with an offense fueled by red-hot scorers Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron, the extra possessions from Murray’s unremitting offensive rebounding has been an equally imperative catalyst. Of Murray’s 63 offensive rebounds this year, 41 have led to points for the Auburn offense (65 percent).
Murray and his Tigers will need to continue their efficient play in the conference Saturday vs. Vanderbilt. Tipoff time is set for 7:30 p.m. CT in Auburn Arena.