Photo by Jason Caldwell

Defensive Play A Key For Auburn's Success, Bruce Pearl Contends

Bruce Pearl and his Auburn basketball team head to Florida looking for a third consecutive SEC victory.

T.J. Lang (above) is a sophomore guard for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Although the Auburn Tigers are missing their best defender at the guard position, Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who is out for the season, Bruce Pearl said he is seeing improvement defensively from a trio of guards as his Tigers try to win a third straight SEC game.

“Because we have had to shorten the bench, Jordon Granger, T.J. Lang and Bryce Brown, those three guys are playing in the guard spots,” Auburn’s head basketball coach says. “You could make an argument all three of them are very engaged in their effort to defend.

“Jordon has always been a physical, athletic kid that is a willing defender,” says Pearl, whose Tigers will play at Florida on Saturday night. “He prides himself on it.

“T.J. Lang, at the end of last year, we started to put him on the other team’s best player so we could rest K.T. (Harrell) offensively. He liked that. My gosh, he came in as a freshman early on he couldn’t move his feet, and he couldn’t stay in front of anybody, but he bought in, and he worked hard at it, and it became a little bit of his identity. That needs to continue.

“Nobody could guard Obasohan (Alabama guard Regin Obasohan), but at least he wanted to try,” Pearl points out. “Bryce Brown, as I’ve said, we do not win these last few games without Bryce Brown just defensively. Forget about the fact that he’s whatever he is for whatever he is from the three. Those balls are going to go down. He is a willing, physical defender.”

Tipoff is set for shortly after 7 p.m. on Saturday at the O’Connell Center for a game against a Florida team that is 12-6 overall and 4-2 in the SEC. Auburn is 3-3 in the SEC and 9-9 overall. The contest will be televised on the SEC Network.

Pearl notes that the Tigers need senior power forward Cinmeon Bowers to have a good performance vs. Florida’s top scorer and rebounder, six-foot-eight forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who is averaging 13.8 points and 8.0 rebounds.

“Cim is starting to use his athleticism,” Pearl says. “I keep talking with him about Draymond Green. Draymond Green is an NBA all-star now, but Draymond Green is a very big, mobile man that does it on both ends of the floor and added that three-point shooting and perimeter game.

“You see signs of Cim doing those kinds of things, but he’s got to do it at both ends of the floor to take advantage of someone that can move that well and is that strong and strong in the air. Well, that involves his defense. So can he guard Dorian Finney-Smith if he gets matched up on him? If I’m an NBA scout, I want to see whether he can or whether he can’t because, you know what, there were times when if we get into a last second-situation and we’ve got to play Alabama again, the best guy I’ve got to guard Obasohan is Cinmeon Bowers because of his size.

“I say that with incredible comments about Obasohan because he’s so tough to keep in front,” Pearl adds. “Therefore, the identity of team has a chance to become more defensive-minded, then you let Kareem (Canty) make shots to keep us in games and Tyler (Harris the inside-outside thing, then you’ve got that. So that’s what I see. That’s what I’ve been harping on.”

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Tahj Shamsid-Deen is shown in action this season vs. Mercer.

Shamsid-Deen had his third shoulder surgery in the past year on Thursday. Pearl said the junior guard is doing well. Shamsid-Deen is out of action for the rest of the season and it is to early to know when he might be cleared to resume playing basketball.

The Tigers will be trying to break an eight-game losing streak in their series vs. Florida, which has a 47-30 record vs. Auburn in games played at Gainesville. Overall, Auburn leads the series 87-76.

Commenting on the Gators, Pearl says, “They have a good team. They are in third place in our league. They are big, they are deep, and they are long. They defend, and they rebound the ball after they miss it. They have over 14 offensive rebounds per game.

“The three-ball is important to them, and they shoot it really well at home,” he adds. “I love Finney-Smith. I have always been a big fan of his as a player, and the matchup between him and Cinmeon Bowers should be a great one if they do find their way to be on each other because they will both play that power forward position.”

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