AUBURN, Ala. — When Auburn basketball beat UAB last season in Birmingham, the Tigers were led a pair of blue-chip freshmen — and one more was on his way.
In the rematch Saturday, Auburn didn’t have either Mustapha Heron (back injury) or Danjel Purifoy (held out for eligibility concerns), and Austin Wiley (eligibility concerns) didn’t get a shot against the visitors from his hometown.
Still, a shorthanded Auburn squad overcame the absences for its biggest nonconference win of the season, a 85-80 home victory over the Blazers. With Heron out, the trio of Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Desean Murray combined for 66 of Auburn’s 85 points — with Brown bouncing back from his worst game of the season with a blistering 6 for 9 from deep.
Auburn led the entire way, but UAB made it close in a physical second half. In the end, the Tigers’ defensive and rebounding advantages held strong for Auburn’s eighth win in nine games to start 2017-18.
Here are the three key takeaways from Auburn basketball’s fifth straight win over UAB:
FINAL: Auburn 85, UAB 80. Auburn has won 8 of its first 9 games for the first time in six years. pic.twitter.com/YgNe1i2IlU
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) December 9, 2017
The new Bryce Brown won’t stay down
To call the old Bryce Brown streaky might be an understatement. He had a tendency in his freshman and sophomore seasons to string together red-hot games, then ice-cold ones. His junior season started differently, as he put up 31 points in the opener and hit double-digits in his next six.
On Wednesday night, though, Brown only hit 2 of his 13 shot attempts and finished with just 6 points against Gardner-Webb. Instead of staying down, though, Brown came back with a vengeance Saturday. He torched UAB for 23 first-half points and was 6-for-7 from downtown at one point.
Brown continued showing more depth to his offensive game with a few 2-pointers and several trips to the free throw line. But make no mistake — when he’s hitting from deep, he’s hard to stop. Auburn got a huge outburst from him Saturday at the perfect time.
All that balanced scoring pays off
When Auburn left its win against Gardner-Webb on Wednesday night, all five of its regular starters officially averaged double-digit points per game. Even without Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, these Tigers had been filling it up with contributions across the board.
That came in handy Saturday against UAB. Without Heron — one of the team’s co-top scorers at 15.9 points per game — Auburn still scored at a good pace. Brown had 23 points at the break. Harper had 13 points in a little more than five minutes in the first half. Murray hit a few big shots early, too.
While Auburn’s players can be incredibly streaky on their own, they seem to balance each other out in games. When Harper cooled down, Brown was there to hit big shots. The rest of the roster picked up the scoring slack in the second half. Those are all good signs for a young team still missing two stars.
Rebounding continues to improve with a smaller team
One of the ways Auburn kept UAB’s offense from being so effective early was simply limiting its possessions. Auburn controlled the offensive rebound battle, 14-9, and had at least 10 more shot attempts than UAB for most of the second half.
Malik Dunbar, who started for Heron, had two huge putbacks down the stretch. The Tigers sent the Blazers to the line a lot, yes, but they made sure the visitors didn’t get easy looks.
Without Wiley, Auburn has to rely on a 6-foot-7 center in McLemore and only a pair of 6-foot-8 forwards off the bench. Still, Auburn continues to out-rebound its opponents time and time again in the nonconference slate, and it’s paying off with an impressive 8-1 start.
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