It had been six days since Auburn’s 99-49 defeat of St. Peter’s, and from the get-go, the rust showed.
The Tigers shot 47.9 percent from the floor, 9-for-25 from three-point range and turned the ball over a season-high 19 times as No. 8 Auburn defeated UNC Asheville 67-41 Tuesday night inside Auburn Arena.
The 67-point total, including 33 points in the first half, is a new season low for the Tigers. The previous low came in a 73-57 victory over Arizona in the Maui Invitational.
"Even after the win, we played alright; we didn't play our best basketball, so (Pearl's) message was we can't play down to the opponent,” Auburn center Austin Wiley said. “We just got to get better. Yeah, that's pretty much it. We just got to play better basketball."
Auburn (7-1), which relies on its sharp-shooting from the perimeter to generate its offense, started the night 4-for-13 from the field and 1-for-6 from deep. And despite shooting 37 percent from the floor in the first half, the Tigers held a 33-18 lead at halftime over UNC Asheville (1-7) due in large part to 12 first-half turnovers from the Bulldogs.
The Tigers, for the first time all season, had only two players score in double-digits. Wiley led all scorers with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in only 18 minutes of play, and Samir Doughty added 13 points shooting 4-of-7 from the floor.
Bryce Brown, Auburn’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, went just 1-for-6 from deep and finished with just seven points. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl wasn’t happy with his team’s offensive production, but was encouraged by the defensive intensity all night.
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“Typically, Bryce is not going to go 1 for 6 very often,” Pearl said. “He had good looks, but I think he just didn't quite have the edge. Some of that had do with the opponent.
"But let me tell you something, he guarded one of his best players, Baker. Baker had four points and nine turnovers. Bryce never stopped guarding, even when he wasn't stuffing the stat sheet offensively. He kept guarding, and that's a mature player. That's a good, solid leader, to be able to keep giving that effort.”
The Tigers gave up just 41 points to UNC Asheville, which is tied for the 10th-fewest points allowed by an Auburn team in the shot-clock era, and forced 25 turnovers.
The Tigers finished with 12 blocks, five of which came within the first six minutes of the game, 13 steals and 20 points off of turnovers. Wiley and Anfernee McLemore combined for eight blocks and Malik Dunbar added five steals.
“I thought our defense was good tonight,” Pearl said. “And sometimes, you know, your defense has got to carry you. Defense travels. While we struggled a little bit offensively, particularly how we took care of the ball — 19 assists, 19 turnovers is not good — the defense maintained pretty consistent.”
UNC Asheville made just 14-of-45 shots (31.1 percent) and didn’t attempt a free throw until over 30 minutes into the contest. Luke Lawson and Coty Jude led the Bulldogs with nine and eight points, respectively.
Auburn, although the result never seemed to be in question, didn’t start to pull away until the 11-minute mark of the second half. Horace Spencer’s two-handed alley-oop dunk on the fast break put the exclamation point on a 17-2 run that lasted 6:02, extending the Tigers’ lead to 30 points.
"I think they did (play down to the opponent) tonight but the thing they didn't do is they always guarded," Pearl said. "They always guarded and rebounded, and gave great effort on the defensive end. Offensively, we weren't as sharp, we weren't as precise. I don't think our guards were able to make plays off the bounce and I don't think our big guys did a very good job of posting."
Auburn next hosts Dayton on Saturday night at 7 p.m. CST.
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