A confident basketball team heading into Saturday’s game against undefeated and Top 10 ranked Xavier, the Auburn Tigers (5-3) are licking their wounds in Hawaii as they prepare to face New Mexico on Tuesday in the first game of the Diamond Head Classic.
Getting beat in every way possible in an 85-61 loss to the Musketeers, Auburn was dominated in the paint by a bigger and deeper Xavier team. While it wasn’t a surprise to see the Tigers struggle in that situation Coach Bruce Pearl said it definitely wasn’t what he wanted to see out of his guys in the loss.
“It was tough, but there is nothing you can do about it,” Pearl said. “I wasn’t pleased with how our guys responded. A lot of it had to do with them (Xavier), but I thought we got pushed around and didn’t respond well.”
In addition to losing the game, the Tigers lost one of their key performers, Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who reinjured one of his problem shoulders. He is not expected to play in three-game tournament in Hawaii.
One of the players who struggled in Cincinnati was senior forward Tyler Harris. Entering the game with three consecutive double-doubles the Providence transfer had just four points and five rebounds in 18 minutes of action as foul trouble while guarding Trevon Bluiett kept him from ever getting into a groove. Pearl said it’s up to the coaches to put him in better spots moving forward to help him get started.
“It was a tough one for him,” Pearl said. “We did not do a very good job of taking advantage of the match-up he had with Bluiett on the inside and I’ll take responsibility for that. We should have been able to get him the ball on the inside better early and that might have helped him have a better night.”
Auburn’s struggles started early against Xavier as the home team raced out to a big early lead thanks to turnovers and poor shooting by the Tigers. Knowing that can’t happen against good teams and expect to win, senior forward said Cinmeon Bowers it starts with the players to get the job done and not make the unforced errors that hurt the team on Saturday.
“We’re that close to being a good team,” Bowers said. “We just have to take care of possessions and be smart with the basketball and get stops on defense.”
Getting ready to face a New Mexico team that is 7-3 on the season and another physical team on the boards, guard Kareem Canty said the Tigers can use Saturday’s loss as motivation moving forward. Now knowing that it feels like to get handled with ease because of the mistakes they made, Canty said it’s time for the Tigers to step up in a tournament setting in Honolulu.
“That could help us a lot,” Canty said. “That’s our first time really going through that. This is real adversity and we have to see how we bounce back in Hawaii.”
The tip for Auburn-New Mexico is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CST on Tuesday and can be seen on ESPNU. The Tigers will play again on Wednesday against either BYU or Harvard. The final round of the tournament is set for Christmas day.
Pearl has a high opinion of Shamsid-Deen, who is suffered his second shoulder injury this season after having surgery on both shoulders last season.
"It’s really a difficult time for our program because one of our leaders, our point guard, playmaker, our best defensive guard and just a really good person is down," Pearl pointed out. "Your heart goes out to him for all he has gone through to try to get himself back and to be absent so early in the season. I know that this time around we are going to make sure Dr. (James) Andrews takes a good, hard look at it. They are going to a MRI and see where it is at. It is obviously coming out way to easily. He is probably going to be out for a while and may require surgery.”