The last time that Auburn competed in the Big 12/SEC Challenge was two seasons ago in a win over TCU. A lot has changed in the last two years for Auburn: an SEC regular-season championship, an SEC Tournament Championship and a Final Four run.
On Saturday, Auburn showed how much progress has been made as it held on against Iowa State by a score of 80-76. Auburn picked up its second Big 12/SEC Challenge victory in program history, improving its record in the event to 2-3.
Auburn’s two victories in the Big 12/SEC Challenge have both come under head coach Bruce Pearl. The Tigers are now seen as a top team in the conference, something that Pearl is proud of for Auburn. And it's something that wasn't necessarily an accepted truth last time Pearl's squad appeared in the event.
“I think it was important for Auburn to hold serve at home,” Pearl said. “We were the home team here, so we're supposed to win this one. We did a couple years ago, two years ago, when we went to TCU. We were a pretty big underdog and had a great win for the SEC and that matters a lot to me that Auburn's not holding the league down any longer in men's basketball.”
The last time that Auburn competed in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, only three members of its current roster were a part of the program. Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore were all freshmen on the team when Auburn last took part in the event.
Purifoy and McLemore both played a big part in Auburn’s first-half success against Iowa State as the duo combined for five of Auburn’s nine made 3-pointers.
They helped Auburn offensively get into an early groove that seemed to help carry the Tigers throughout the first half.
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"It was great to see Danjel get comfortable," Pearl said. "When Anfernee McLemore’s making shots, things really open up for us offensively. You have two bigs make six 3s, I don't care what you're running, your offense is going to run better."
For Wiley, the Tigers center nearly had a double-double against the Cyclones with seven points and nine rebounds. He had four points and five rebounds in the first half and three points and four rebounds in the second half.
Auburn returns to action Tuesday night at Ole Miss.
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