In today's Auburn basketball notebook, sports writer Bryce Johnson opines on Tigers senior forward Horace Spencer and his invaluable contributions to Bruce Pearl's team.
It was only right that the player who stood out the most during the basketball version of the Iron Bowl was seemingly the hardest working working man on the court.
Horace Spencer is the proverbial ugly duckling of the Auburn lineup. He’s not fast, he can’t shoot threes, he hasn’t started a game all year and hasn’t even scored over 15 points in his college career. It’s safe to say the 6-foot-8 forward from the gritty city of Philadelphia doesn't demand anyone’s attention when he’s on the floor. On Saturday night though, in an 84-63 win against the rival of all rivals for Auburn University, Spencer made his presence felt.
With only four points and five rebounds, his name could easily be missed when perusing the stat sheet after the game. Spencer’s game has never been that of a stat-stuffer; it’s about the moments where he lays it all on the line to help his team claw their way to victory.
With six minutes left in the first half Spencer did precisely this.
Alabama cut the lead to three after just a couple minutes earlier, the Tigers went on a 16-2 run. Auburn Arena needed a spark.
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Bryce Brown, who was on a heater all night, curled off a baseline screen from Spencer and caught the ball on the right wing. Instinctively, Brown rose up for the three, only to see two Alabama players crash as hard as humanly possible on him to contest the shot.
In mid-air, he sailed the ball into the post right into the waiting arms of Spencer. He took one power dribble and immediately dribbled the ball off his foot. Without hesitation, Spencer sent his 6-foot-8 frame to the floor to follow the loose ball. In a sequence that could only be accompanied by a tune from the Harlem Globetrotter, the ball bounced on every part of his body, while Tide players tried to swipe it away to start a break.
Somehow, Spencer willed himself to get the ball, stand up and attack the basket all in one motion. Once the remaining players near the basket in Crimson were aware of this happening they all tried to stop the easy layup doing exactly what Spencer accounted for. The second the defense jumped, he whipped the ball out to the arc, where the wide-open Brown was standing. An easy three points went on the board.
The next play, Alabama double-double machine Donta Hall caught the ball on the low block, ready to quiet the crowd. The only problem was he ran straight into Spencer, who stripped him clean which lead to another Auburn two points and fans reaching ear-shattering decibel levels in the arena.
These moments are abundant when Spencer is on the floor, whether it’s taking the ball coast-to-coast for a Magic Johnson-esque finger roll or stuffing a poster dunk, regathering and contesting a second chance layup in two hops. Spencer is all grit. Even on the play where he fouled out, it was him giving his all to prevent Alabama from converting on an Auburn turnover.
Auburn wants to run and shoot transition threes. When that doesn’t work the team will go five out and look for a sliver of space off a dribble handoff or a mismatch to chuck one up. Once the other side gets adjusted to this style, they start to overplay the shooters which opens up the paint. That’s why having Spencer is so valuable coming off the bench for a team that is a stark contrast philosophically to his play style. Once he sets a high screen, it’s off to the races to the wide-open basket. He’s the equilibrium.
On a night where the Tigers were unconscious from three at 59 percent, the one guy who doesn’t play outside the 3-point line may go unnoticed. Just remember who dirties his hands to make that possible.
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