Auburn's Injury-Plagued Basketball Team Will Open the SEC Season With A Home Game Vs. Tennessee

Auburn will play its Southeastern Conference basketball opener on Saturday afternoon at Auburn Arena.

Kareem Canty (above) is Auburn's top scorer as the Tigers head into Saturday's home game.

Auburn, Ala.-- Bruce Pearl's  Auburn basketball team will go into the new year the way it finished the old one as the wounded Tigers prepare for Saturday’s SEC opener vs. the Tennessee Volunteers.

Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. CST on Saturday at Auburn Arena for a game that will be televised on CBS. Although all seats for the game have been sold out, standing room tickets will be available for the contest vs. Pearl’s 6-5 Tigers and the 7-5 Volunteers.

Auburn will again be playing short-handed at the point guard position. Tahj Shamsid-Deen is out indefinitely with his shoulder problem while T.J. Dunans, who was injured in the Harvard game on Auburn’s trip to Honolulu, is also unavailable.

“T.J. Dunans is out three to five weeks,” Pearl says. “He has a severely bruised knee. We believe that his patella dislocated and caused a lot of bruising--a tremendous amount of swelling.

“The good news is the MRIs have shown that his ACL and his MCL are intact, and so it doesn’t look like anything needs surgery, but it’s pretty banged up. Obviously, the trip back from Hawaii was difficult and so he is working hard rehab-wise.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

T.J. Dunans became an immediate impact player in his first season with the Tigers.

“We lost Tahj in the first half against Xavier,” Pearl says. “Again, from the standpoint of just having that be a devastating loss for our team, our starting point guard...Giving Kareem (Canty) and Tahj the opportunity to play together, I think helps us in a lot of ways so we lose that opportunity.”

Canty, a junior, is the team’s only remaining scholarship point guard. He is also the Tigers’ leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and leads the team in assists with 6.1 per contest.

Dunans is No. 4 on the team in scoring average at 12.4 points per game. Senior forward Tyler Harris is second at 14.0 points per contest and second in rebounds with 8.4 per game. Senior forward Cinmeon Bowers leads the team in rebounding average at 9.7 and is scoring 12.5 points per game.

Commenting on Shamsid-Deen’s potential availability the rest of the season, Pearl says, “He has an MRI scheduled for a couple of days from now. He has not gotten his MRI because he’s not playing right now. At that time, the MRI will tell us what kind of damage he has done as then it will relate to whether or not he has to have surgery again immediately and he’s out for the year or whether or not it’s still possible for him to strengthen, brace and try to play.” 

A pair of walk-ons, 6-0 sophomore Patrick Keim, and 6-2 freshman Zach Allison, are getting practice time at the point guard spot. Keim played briefly in relief of Canty at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii while Allison did not see action in those three games.

Tennessee is led by 6-2 senior guard Kevin Punter, who is averaging 22.2 points, and 6-4 senor forward Armani Moore, who is averaging 15.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

“They have got four seniors and they have got some good players,”?Pearl says of the Volunteers. “They’re not terrifically deep, but the guys they put on the floor are good, and there are a couple of McDonald’s All-Americans out there and they’re pretty good. They’re a tough cover.

“They play small ball," points out Pearl. The Vols' starters are six-foot-seven, 6-5, 6-4, 6-4 and 6-2 with the top subs 6-4 and 6-1.

“When Armanti Moore is playing the three or four, we didn’t have anybody that could handle him on the inside, and he is their three and four man so it’s a physical, athletic team that will definitely present us some problems,” Pearl says.

Last year, in his first game against Tennessee as Auburn’s head coach, Pearl’s Tigers fell 71-63 in Knoxville.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Bruce Pearl is in his second season coaching the Tigers.

Commenting on coaching against the Vols, he says, “It’s the opening game of the SEC. It’s an important game. It matters. Tennessee fired me, and that speaks for itself. They fired me and so it is a game that matters.

“I have great affection for Tennessee and for their fans and for what we did with Tennessee basketball, and human nature would say I could say, ‘No, it doesn’t mean any more to me.’ The Alabama game means more. It’s a rival. The Kentucky game means more. They’re the best program in our league. The Tennessee game means a little bit more. They did fire me so it’s something that is just the truth.”

News and Notes: The Auburn Radio Network broadcast featuring Rod Bramblett and Sonny Smith is available on XM Channel 190...Pearl notes there is no update on the status of freshman Danjel Purifoy, who has not been cleared to play due to questions about his ACT score. The coach says he hopes there will be a final ruling on the guard’s status in January...Trayvon Reed, a seven-foot center who has not been with the team or in school at Auburn this season due to what Pearl called a personal matter, is still an “option” for being brought back onto the roster, the coach notes...Auburn’s RPI?is 76 while Tennessee’s is 123...Pearl is encouraging Auburn fans to purchase AUTLIVE t-shirts for $20 to wear during Saturday’s game. Money raised by the sale will be used for local cancer treatment and awareness. The shirts will be on sale at Auburn Arena on Saturday.

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