Auburn, Ala.--Pressure defense forced 29 turnovers as the Bruce Pearl Era of Auburn Basketball began with a 94-58 exhibition game victory over the University of West Alabama on Friday night.
A crowd of 8,523 saw transfer Antoine Mason score 22 points in his Auburn debut to lead the Tigers in scoring. K.T. Harrell, the leading returning scorer from last year’s team, scored 21 for the Tigers.
Another newcomer, juco transfer Cinmeon Bowers, led Auburn in rebounding with 10 while scoring 15 points.
Auburn’s other double figures scorer, sophomore guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen, tied for the team lead with Mason in steals with four.
“I liked my starters, but our depth is an issue,” said Pearl, whose bench was outscored 33-23 by West Alabama.
“I like the fact that we turned them over,” Pearl said. “We created tempo, which was good, and I thought we got most of the 50-50 balls. West Alabama is a pretty quick team. They could have beaten us with their quickness and they didn’t.”
Bruce Pearl coaches in his first Auburn game.
A statistic the coach liked was that the Tigers finished the game with 23 assists on their 32 made field goals, in contrast to how the team performed in their scrimmage last Sunday at Tulane. “I thought the guys played better together,” Pearl pointed out.
Pearl said that the Tigers played better in the game than they have practiced recently and noted there is still a lot of work to do. “I have not been pleased with how we have been practicing and I have not been pleased with the progress and where we are at right now,” he said.
West Alabama scored first on a three-pointer, but Auburn soon took control vs. the Division II team and was never seriously threatened.
The Tigers shuffled players in and out of the lineup early and often. The walk-ons were able to get playing time late in the game on a night the Tigers outscored the visitors 36-15 in points off of turnovers.
“It was fun, it is exciting to play against somebody else,” said Mason, a transfer from Niagara. The son of NBA player Anthony Mason hit 8-15 field goals, 1-5 threes and 5-6 free throws while coming up with four steals in a game-high 29 minutes of playing time.
Mason said it “felt like a year” since the Tigers began preseason practice early in the summer. “The crowd today was amazing,” he added, noting it was fun to play a game.
Harrell, who won praise from Pearl for his all-around performance, hit 6-11 field goals, 4-7 threes and 5-6 free throws while adding six rounds and six assists.
“I really try to be a complete player and I think that is what I did tonight,” Harrell said.
Auburn shot 43.8 percent from the field while making 11-32 threes for 34.4 percent and 19-25 free throws. Auburn out-rebounded the visitors 44-32 and had 14 turnovers.
West Alabama shot 41.9 percent from the field while making 6-15 threes and 16-29 free throws. Charles Eaton was the only UWA player to score in double figures with 11 points.
The Tigers open the regular season next Friday at home vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Tajh Shamsid-Deen plays defense vs. West Alabama. The sophomore played point guard and shooting guard on Friday night.
Worth Noting, Part 1: The Tigers outscored UWA 32-22 for points in the paint and 8-2 on fastbreaks.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Pearl said that he was grateful for a phone call of support he got prior to the game from AU football coach Gus Malzahn, who is preparing for an SEC home game vs. Texas A&M. “He knows tonight is a big night for me,” said Pearl.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Auburn’s tallest player, six-foot-eight, 255-pound sophomore post Matthew Atewe, had to leave the game after taking a blow to his leg while driving to the basket. Pearl said Atewe, who has a steel rod in the leg he hurt, will be taken for X-Rays, but is hopeful Atewe isn’t seriously injured despite the sophomore being in pain.
Worth Noting, Part 4: Pearl, who had back surgery on Tuesday, was very active on the sideline, constantly moving up and down the sideline and stomping his feet when he was upset. The coach said that he will likely pay a price for that on Saturday.
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers led 42-30 at the break after leading by as many as 19 points in the period. Harrell led the Tigers with 13 points as he hit two of the team’s seven treys in the half. Shamsid-Deen scored nine points in the first half as the Auburn defense forced 16 turnovers.