Antoine Mason (right) looks to score against senior guard K.T. Harrell.
Auburn, Ala.--One of the nation’s leading scorers last season at Niagara University where he averaged 25.6 points per game and made 260 free throws (26th most in NCAA history), Antoine Mason notes that he is excited about finishing his collegiate career with the Auburn Tigers under the direction of first-year Coach Bruce Pearl.Playing in an instrasquad scrimmage on Wednesday, the traditional date for the start of men's collegiate basketball practices, Mason scored 24 points as he hit 5-11 field goals and 12-14 free throws in the session.
“We are looking good," Mason said. "Of course, it is October 15th so we need a lot of improvement, but I like how everybody is gelling. That is a good thing.”
Commenting on the scrimmage, he said, “It went alright. Everybody can improve so we have to pick it up. Stamina-wise we have got to be able to run for 40 minutes, and more, and make shots. The main thing for us is defending and rebounding. If we can do all of that a little bit better that will get us over the hump.”
A graduate student who was able to transfer to Auburn this summer with immediate eligibility, the 6-1, 216-pounder is expected to play several different roles for the Tigers this season. While he is still learning the ins and outs of a new system like his teammates, the guard noted the biggest thing for him is enjoying the experience and the chance to play one more year at a place he is growing to love.
“For me, coming on campus was amazing as well as being able to be coached by Coach (Bruce) Pearl,” Mason said. “I look up to him as a legend as a coach. When I came and met the guys, I felt like I connected with them right away. I felt comfortable like this was a perfect spot for me.”
With very little depth in the post for the 2014-15 Tigers, Pearl is going to have to be creative with how he uses guys. That is going to mean different looks for Auburn this season, including four guards with K.T. Harrell and Malcolm Canada on the floor at the same time with Mason to provide some physical play even if the size isn’t ideal.
“They will play together on the floor a lot,” Pearl said of the trio. “I play three guards, especially with this group here. My twos and my threes will be very similar. I think those guys will be on the floor a lot together. When you see K.T. and Antoine, and even Malcolm (Canada), they are strong and they are physical.“They have trained really hard so I’ve got to find a way to use that physicality defensively," Pearl added. "We are going to be experienced in the backcourt. I have got four senior guards who are going to play. It gives us a chance against some opponents in certain matchups where we can be effective. That is just going to have to be something where we see how effective we can be.”
Antoine Mason drives to the basket while playing for Niagara.
Finishing last season with 12 games in which he scored 30 points or more, Mason left Niagara with 1,934 points, good enough for third on the school’s all-time list.
The issue for Mason as a scorer is that it took a lot of shots for him to score those points, 612 a season ago or roughly a third of the shots taken by the Purple Eagles all season. Connecting on just 48-168 (28.6 percent) three-point attempts, he noted a goal this offseason has been to improve his outside shooting percentage while working with one of the best long-range shooters in Auburn history, who became a star in the NBA.
“Definitely my shot,” Mason said of what he has worked hard on the most. “Especially with Coach Chuck (Person)--he’s The Rifleman. If anybody can teach me, he can. I have been working on defense and everything other than scoring. I want to be a complete player, not just the scorer.”
Mason took five three-pointers in the scrimmage and made two. Asked how his outside shooting project is developing, Mason said, “It is going well. It is kind of like I am changing my whole shot, but I am getting used to it and I am getting more comfortable. The good thing is I can tell if I am missing or I am going to make it.”
Mason is shown at an Auburn practice.
That is going to be the key for Mason this season. With Harrell and sophomore Tahj Shamsid-Deen both being called on to be major scorers for the Tigers as well, the son of former NBA standout Antonio Mason knows what it takes to win games and he’s prepared to do what it takes to get it done.
“Being a senior, I have experience,” Mason said. “I can bring experience and a knowledge of the game. I can help the young players when they are going through their rough tasks. It’s a long season and everybody knows you have ups and downs. If you can just stay calm throughout it, you’ll be alright.”
Asked what he he sees as the team's strength so far in practice, Mason said, “Running, even though we have to improve on it. The fastbreak is our best thing now.”
The Tigers will need plenty of scoring as they take on a much more demanding schedule than last year's team played. Pearl's team will go on public display at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 7th with an exhibition game vs. West Alabama. A week later the Tigers open the regular season with a 9 p.m. home game vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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