Auburn Basketball Game 31 Preview/Notes

The Georgia Bulldogs will be Auburn's Senior Day opponent on Saturday as the Tigers prepare to honor a group of guards.

K.T. Harrell (above) leads the SEC in scoring with an average of 17.9 points per game.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn will try to snap a losing streak while honoring its seniors on Saturday in its final regular season basketball game as the Georgia Bulldogs visit Auburn Arena for a 3 p.m. CST contest.

Guards K.T. Harrell, K.C. Ross-Miller and Malcolm Canada will be honored on senior day while the team’s other senior, guard, Antoine Mason, is not expected to be in Auburn after attending his father’s funeral on Friday in New York.

Malcolm Canada is shown in action during Auburn's 69-68 victory at Georgia in February.

Auburn, which is 12-18 overall and 4-13 in the SEC, has lost games five in a row including a 63-61 setback on Tuesday night at Missouri.

Georgia, which made a strong bid to upset Kentucky in its previous outing, is 19-10 overall and 10-7 in the SEC with one of its losses coming to Auburn. It is an important game for the Bulldogs who are trying to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.

The game, which has been a sellout for almost a month, will be televised on the SEC Network.

“We have a lot to play for in this one, both Georgia and Auburn,” said AU head coach Bruce Pearl. “Georgia has a chance to be as high as a three seed (for the SEC Tournament). If they don’t win, then they don’t. For us it is still mathematically possible to be an 11 seed. We have a lot to play for in addition to finish up our home stand, being able to reward our fans who have been phenomenal, with a victory.”

Harrell, who leads the SEC in scoring, had these comments about getting ready for his final game at Auburn Arena. “It is surreal,” he said. “I don’t think it will hit me until it’s over. I have just been focusing and preparing for these last few games.”

Pearl said on Friday that Harrell should be a first team all-league pick. Asked about that, the guard said, “It is not something I am really focusing on. If God wants me to have it, then I think I will make the team. I don’t focus on that. I am just trying to play as hard as I can, and I will let the people who decide it make that decision. It is not for me to think about.”

Harrell scored 21 points in the win over Georgia and Ross-Miller was the second leading scorer for the Tigers with 17 points. The transfer from New Mexico State said that he helping the team improve is something that is important to him. “We all wish we had won a couple more games and done better down the stretch, but we have always tried to push each other on and off the court.”

Ross-Miller is averaging 6.6 points per game.

Ross-Miller added that personally he became a better player and better person during his time on the 2014-15 team after transferring to AU last summer as a graduate student.

Canada, who is wrapping up his second season on the team after transferring in from junior college, said his senior season has been personally rewarding playing for Pearl and the new staff. “This year compared to last year has been day and night,” he said. “Coach Pearl gave me the opportunity to play more at another position. He believed in me and so did my teammates. I tried to make the best of it. I think I put myself in a position to be successful.”

Georgia is led in scoring y 6-8 forward Marcus Thornton, who is averaging 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. Another 6-8 forward, Djurisic Nemanja, is averaging 11.3 points and 5.0 rebounds.

Coach Bruce Pearl's Tigers will play next week in Nashville at the SEC Tournament.

Georgia goes with three guards in the starting lineup and two of them are scoring in double figures. Sixpfoot-five Charles Mann is averaging 11.1 points and 5.3 rebounds while 6-3 Kenny Gaines is scoring 11.7 points per contest while averaging 3.6 rebounds. The other starter, 6-1 Kenny Echols, is averaging 1.2 points. Another guard, 5-10 J.J. Frazier is averaging 9.8 points.

“Georgia is a very physical team,” Pearl said. “There is a reason why they were able to stay with Kentucky. They are a physical team. The matchup over there doesn’t really make sense that we were able to beat that team because of the way they are built. They are physical screeners, posters and drivers, some of the things that we struggle with.

“We went small at Georgia and it really helped us in the last five or ten minutes in the game. We were down nine with about seven minutes to go. Cinmeon (Bowers) went to the line and missed two free throws. K.T. got the rebound and made two free throws. That started a chain where I think we probably scored on seven of our last 10 possessions. We are going to have to physically man up in a big way against Georgia, because their guards are big, strong, physical and older. The physicality has been our biggest weakness.”

On Antoine Mason: Pearl said the Tigers considered flying to New York for Anthony Mason’s funeral on Friday, but the logistics did not work out. The coach said he isn’t sure about the guard’s return for next week’s SEC Tournament. ““I think it is still up in the air. It is going to have to be something that Antoine decides he wants to do. He has been out of practice all week, but I am going to leave it up to him.”

On Mason and Ross-Miller As One-Year Players: Both of the guards joined the team as a graduate students last summer. Commenting on the pair, Pearl said, “Chris Denson was a huge part of the program for a number of years, and his last year he was Second Team All-Conference and just did a really good job out there with K.T. so it was difficult for us to come in and replace a player who had been here for many years and who had done a great job. We did the best we could with K.C. and Antoine as fifth-year guys.

“I’m not a huge proponent of the rule, but in this case it worked out for us. Those guys got a chance to be a part of the Auburn Family. We will look back on certain games and know without them we have no chance to win. I will look back at other games and know with them we had no chance to win either. K.C. played great against Georgia at Georgia. Antoine played great in our win against LSU. With Kareem Canty being recruited at the same time to play point guard, it really fit the bill. We couldn’t recruit Kareem, sit him out and have a freshman there. He would be looking over his shoulder knowing Kareem would come in and be starting next year. I think the combination of K.C. and Antoine helped to get us through.”

Roster Restructure: “We used the words all year long that we were trying to avoid disaster this year,” Pearl said on the late additions to the team. “Whether or not it was a disaster is up to your opinion. We certainly didn’t win as many games as we would of liked to, but it could have been a lot worse. Back in April when we had what we had then, before K.C., Cinmeon, Antoine, and Kareem…in a lot of ways we scrambled and worked to at least be competitive. We had some games that were 20 pointers, but the rosters were that vastly different. We went on the road and we played well at Alabama and well at Tennessee. We didn’t play well at Florida, but we did get it down to five or six fairly late. We played well at LSU, Georgia, and Missouri. Those could have been games that could have really gotten away from us so I am going to pull out some positive things.

“It is tough to be ending the season without a lot of success,” Pearl added. “Not beating Alabama once was tough. The support has been great, both in the stands and privately. I have not beat up these kids because it is not all their fault. The Auburn family hasn’t beaten us up because they recognize our effort, and they see the hope.”

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