On-the-court action in Friday night's contest between Auburn and Winthrop was often overshadowed by Auburn legend Charles Barkley.
Friday served as Charles Barkley Appreciation Night at Auburn Arena. Fans crowded the former NBA star for most of the night, seeking pictures and autographs in what Tiger fans saw as an opportunity to meet one of their favorite players.
Mustapha Heron saw it as an opportunity to impress the Auburn great.
Heron scored a career-high 31 points, 18 of which came in the first half, Bryce Brown scored 18 points in the second half and Auburn used a season-high 14 three-pointers to pummel Winthrop 119-85.
"Good to see both Bryce and Mustapha relaxed offensively," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said following the win. "Mustapha all the way through, Bryce certainly in the second half."
Auburn (4-1) didn't free-ride for the whole night, as Winthrop battled to start, even leading 27-24 midway through the opening half.
The lead lasted for all of 55 seconds.
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The Tigers closed the half on a 32-7 run, during which they didn't commit a single turnover. Heron spearheaded Auburn's efforts amid the tear, turning in a pair of ferocious slams to will the crowd back in the game.
The Waterbury, Connecticut native showed his most complete performance of the season, a game that Pearl contributed to with yelling, and ham.
"I yelled at [Heron] more this week, like a lot more," Pearl said. "I was even mean to him. He did come over for Thanksgiving, and he's not a turkey eater, which is challenging. He went with some ham."
He just seemed to be relaxed. In Charleston, he was really pressing trying to find his shots, so I thought that was great to see."
The former five-star prospect displayed exceptional efforts up and down the floor, for which the sophomore was rewarded with the fourth double-double of his young Auburn career. Heron was also a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe.
Brown complemented Heron's first half explosion with a second half one, catching fire thanks to lightning-quick releases from three, from which he shot 6-for-9.
"You can't stop him," Heron said of Brown's recent scoring production. "He spaces the floor so well, it's impossible to stop. And it opens the floor for everybody else."
With projected NBA first rounder Austin Wiley sitting on the bench in street clothes, junior transfers Desean Murray and Malik Dunbar flashed much-needed strength and discipline down low.
"It was the best Malik has played," Pearl said. "His energy was great, he finished around the basket. He's feeling better about himself."
Dunbar finished an efficient 6-for-8 with 13 points, while Murray flirted with a double-double (12 points, 8 rebounds).
"It started on defense," Dunbar said. "My team believed in me and trusted in what I could do."
Murray appeared to sprain his ankle minutes into the game, after which Pearl claimed the ankle was taped and he "toughed it out."
Winthrop (2-3) notched five players in double figures scoring, but couldn't find its niche defensively. The Eagles shot 41 percent from behind the arc to keep pace, but ultimatley suffered in the halfcourt from Auburn's nine steals.
The 119 points serve as Auburn's highest scoring output of the young season and tie the most points scored by an Auburn team under Pearl.
Despite the impressive showing, Pearl said the team "has a lot to improve on if we're going to win at Dayton." The Tigers travel to play the Flyers Wednesday, Nov. 29.
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