Auburn Basketball Game 15 Preview/Notes

Missouri is the opponent for Auburn's SEC basketball opener on Saturday evening as Coach Bruce Pearl's Tigers look to get back on the winning track.

Cinmeon Bowers (above) is averaging 13.2 points and 11 rebounds per game for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.-- Looking to even their record in league play at 1-1, the Auburn basketball Tigers will play host to Missouri with a 6 p.m. start on Saturday at Auburn Arena.

Coach Bruce Pearl’s team is looking to bounce back from a 64-52 loss on Tuesday night at Vanderbilt. Missouri opened SEC play with a 74-67 overtime win at home on Thursday night vs. LSU.

Missouri brings a 7-7 overall record into the game, which will be televised on the SEC Network while Auburn is 8-6.

“They are good,” Pearl said. “They have played as hard a schedule as anybody in our league. Their losses are Arizona, Purdue, Illinois, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State. They have played a terrific schedule. They are not going to be at all overwhelmed by our roster.

“The environment could be a factor,” Pearl said of Auburn Arena, which is sold out except for standing room only tickets. “I hope it is a factor. It has been a factor for us. It will encourage our guys. The crowd has been terrific. We need a really spirited crowd.”

Pearl’s Tigers have played much better at Auburn Arena than at road or neutral sites. Auburn has won seven of eight homes games, including the previous five.

“(Coach) Frank Haith left some good players and had some good recruits that were signed and then (Coach) Kim Anderson did a good job of keeping some of those guys and adding a few pieces to what he inherited,” Pearl said about Missouri. “From a talent standpoint, it is clearly a middle-of-the-league, approaching an upper-of-the-league roster. I would expect it to be a hard-fought game.

“They have depth, they have size, and they have length,” the Auburn coach added. “They might have one kid out, Montaque Gill-Caesar. They say he is questionable for the game. He has been a really good freshman for them, but they still played nine guys a lot of minutes last night and they still have a lot of depth.”

Gill-Caesar is a six-foot-six guard who is averaging 11.5 points per game. Mizzou’s top scorer is six-foot-nine sophomore Jonathan Williams III, who is averaging 14.0 points and 7.1 rebounds.

Other likely starters for Missouri include 6-0 sophomore guard Wes Clark (8.9 points), 5-11 senior guard Keith Shamburger (8.3 points) and 6-8 freshman forward Jakeenan Gant (8.6 points, 6.6 rebounds).

Auburn sophomore guard Tajh Shamsid-Deen said the Tigers need to play more consistently for 40 minutes than they did vs. Vanderbilt to secure a win vs. SEC competition. Pearl agrees and said, “We did a lot of good things at Vanderbilt. We felt prepared and I think the team felt like we could win.

“When we struggled some at about the 12-minute mark or the 13-minute mark, I think it caught us off guard,” the coach said. “Not that we went in overconfident, I am just glad that the guys went in with some level of confidence that we can win this basketball game because of our preparation and because of our talent. When it started to go bad and Vanderbilt was killing us on the inside and we were not making shots, and then we started to rush shots, it was like, ‘Wow, here we go again.’

“What concerned me was that mental breakdown that took place for a while there where that was a distraction for us,” Pearl pointed out. “The facts are quite simple. At every position Vanderbilt was three to six inches taller than we were-at every position. We even had Malcolm Canada starting at the four spot. That length was a factor. It was a factor on the basket, it was a factor in the paint, it was a factor on the boards, and it was a factor in deflections. Things like that.

Coach Bruce Pearl makes a point at practice.

“Getting two-point baskets is tough for us. We get that ball inside to Cinmeon Bowers and he does the best he can at trying to score around the basket. He needs to score on angles and it is hard to score over a guy that is six or seven inches taller than you are.

“That all said, we guarded pretty well, we turned them over,” Pearl pointed out. “We created some offense for our defense and made enough shots and made enough plays that we had a chance to win it in the last few minutes. That was obviously a positive.”

Tigers vs. Tigers: Saturday’s game will be just the third time these two teams have played in basketball. Missouri won 91-77 two seasons ago and was 70-68 winner last year.

K.T. vs. Mizzou: Last season in his debut vs. SEC competition, Auburn guard K.T. Harrell scored 27 points vs. Missouri, but the Tigers lost 70-68.

Auburn finished the Vandy game with 10 steals, extending the team’s streak to five games with double-digit totals in that statistic. For the season the Tigers have seven games with 10 or more steals.

Bowers Ball: Pearl said he is looking for more consistent play from his team’s leading rebounder. “Keep in mind, Cinmeon Bowers is one of only three players at the high major level that averages a double-double. Some coaches would be so satisfied with that they would not even begin to try to want more. I want more. Cinmeon knows that.

“I have very high expectations for him. We would be lost without him. That disaster that I referred to (before the Vanderbilt game), that I was trying to avoid, without him it would be a total disaster, but I know what he is capable of. I know he can protect the rim more, I know he can defend anybody on the floor. I would like to see him get out to a little bit of a better start and play like a six-foot seven-inch power forward rather than play like a center.”

Rehab Progress: Jordon Granger, who has been slowed by a bruised knee and a hamstring problem, should be ready for action against his home-state team. “Right now it is just game to game,” the junior from St. Louis said about his health. “Last game against Vanderbilt I felt really well. (Athletic trainer) Jermile Brooks is making sure I get the proper treatment needed so right now it is just game to game.”

Granger said the Tigers need to avoid slow starts like the one they had at Vandy in which they scored just 19 points in the first half. “If we come out like we did the second half against Vanderbilt every game then we should be fine in the SEC,” he said.

Free Food: Pearl send a message to AU students, who don't start classes until next week, that the Tigers hope they can attend Saturday's game and the first 500 who show up will receive a hotdog at no charge from AU.

Up Next: The Tigers will travel to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators on Thursday.

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