T.J. Dunans (above) has started every game for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers basketball team will be looking to get back into the victory column with a Tuesday home game vs. an opponent that has been playing well.
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CST at Auburn Arena as the Mercer Bears bring an 8-1 record into the contest that will be televised on the SEC Network.
Since becoming a Division I basketball program in 1973, the Bears are off to their best start, topping the mark of 7-1 set by the 1984-85 team that featured NBA player Sam Mitchell, a good-shooting forward who nearly led his team to a win at Auburn.
Mitchell’s Bears dropped a 70-69 decision at Auburn to Coach Sonny Smith’s Tigers, who won 22 games that season, including wins vs. Purdue and Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. Mitchell played so well against the Tigers that Smith made a point of saying after the game the Tigers made a major mistake not offering him a scholarship.
Mercer will come into Tuesday’s contest after a 10-day break from competition during exams. In their last outing the Bears defeated Alcorn State 68-43. Their only loss for the college located in Macon, Ga., was a 77-71 setback at Davidson.
Auburn is coming off an 88-81 overtime loss on Saturday in Nashville vs. Middle Tennessee State. Junior guard Kareem Canty matched his career-high with 28 points in the contest as he hit 8-13 three-pointers.
“I thought he kept his composure throughout the game,” Pearl said. “As a result late in the game he gets rewarded by playing so well. He was really solid throughout. When he had to take things over, he took things over. We play best when everybody contributes. He and I have to get more (production) from everybody else.”
Pearl noted that as impressive as Canty’s point total was, it could have been higher. “He is a very difficult cover one-on-one,” said the coach, who added, “I thought he got fouled a bunch. He didn’t shoot a free throw.”
Kareem Canty is off to a strong start after redshirting last season.
The coach was also disappointed the Tigers were outscored 13-2 in transition points by Middle Tennessee State. “We didn’t advance pass the ball and our wings didn’t run,” Pearl said. “That was an issue. We are an up-tempo team and we only had two fastbreak points so we have got to get the ball down the floor better.
I thought in our halfcourt execution in the second half we just didn’t have any flow,” he added.
Mercer has relied on its defense for its strong start. Opponents are making just 36.3 percent of their shots while the Bears are hitting at a 46.9 percent clip. The Bears have also been strong on the boards with an 11.2 rebound margin per game.
Auburn is making 47 percent of its field goals while opponents are hitting 43.5 percent of their shots vs. the Tigers, who are averaging 88.7 points per game while giving up 79.0.
In Nashville vs. MTSU the Tigers hurt their chances of winning by making just 11-24 free throws, which dropped their percentage at the foul line to 66.3 percent for the season. The Tigers are plus 2.7 per game in rebound margin.
Canty is leading the Tigers in scoring at 19.0 points per game while Tyler Harris is next a 16.5. Harris is averaging 8.8 rebounds, second on the team behind 9.3 by Cinmeon Bowers, who is averaging 13.0 points per game.
T.J. Dunans, who struggled on Saturday vs. Middle Tennessee State, is averaging 13.3 points. He will be trying to bounce back from a game in which he made just 2-9 field goals and missed both of his free throws.
“He has been great,” said Pearl, who noted the game vs. the Blue Raiders was the junior guard’s first bad outing of the season. “He is one of our best players and he can do a lot more and he will,” the coach added.