Coach Bruce Pearl's Auburn Tigers Counting On Veteran Guard

The Auburn basketball Tigers are looking for a good performance in the Cancun Challenge from their graduate transfer point guard.

Ronnie Johnson (above) is in his first season with the Tigers.

On a basketball team relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores the experience provided by graduate transfer Ronnie Johnson could be a positive for the Auburn Tigers as they face an experienced Texas Tech team on Tuesday at the Cancun Challenge.

Johnson stepped up during last week’s 85-64 Auburn victory over Eastern Kentucky. The point guard came off the bench to contribute 13 points and four assists on a night when he surpassed the 1,000 points mark for his college career.

Additionally, he was strong defensively for Coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers, who will play at 5 p.m. CST on Tuesday in Mexico at the Hard Rock Hotel Riveria Maya against the Red Raiders from the Big 12 Conference.

“I am just being a leader--showing them that I’ve been there a little bit,” Johnson said of his role. “I am trying to keep everyone poised a little bit and trying to keep their minds on the right things, just defensively and rebounding, and just sharing the ball--little stuff like that.”

Auburn’s coach noted that he liked what he saw from the 6-0, 180 Johnson last week as the Tigers improved their record to 3-0. “He really stepped up,” said Pearl.  “It gives the team more confidence that we’ve got a few good point guards.”

The starter at the position, true freshman Jared Harper, is third on the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game behind redshirt freshman forward Danjel Purifoy (16.3 points per game) and freshman guard Mustapha Herson (14.7 points per game).

Asked about how he and Harper are sharing the point guard duties, Johnson said, “I think he has been playing pretty well. We’re cool. We talk and we give each other tips all of the time. If I see something that could help him, I’m going to give him a tip, and he does the same with me.”

It’s normal for a productive graduate transfer to be a starter at his new school, but so far Johnson has been a backup to Harper. Asked if it bothered him that he isn’t starting, Johnson said, “At first, it did, but it’s a maturity thing. That’s how I look at it. You have just got to take it for what it is, don’t dwell on it and keep moving forward.”

Texas Tech, a team Pearl calls a very experienced one, has a 3-0 record heading into Tuesday evening’s game that will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.

The winner of the Tigers vs. Red Raiders matchup will play either 2-1 Purdue or 4-0 Utah State 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The losers of the Tuesday games will meet at 5 p.m.


Jared Harper is shown in action vs. Georgia State.

Pearl is hoping the good play of his point guards in home games will continue in Mexico. “It has been really wonderful to have Ronnie Johnson and Jared Harper out there together at different times and feed off of each other,” the coach said.

“Jared stepped up and took over the game against Georgia State, particularly in the second half. Ronnie stepped up and took the game over in the second half against Eastern Kentucky. When those things happen it builds great chemistry because nobody was happier for Jared than Ronnie and nobody was happier for Ronnie than Jared.”

Auburn and Texas Tech are meeting for just the fourth time. The Red Raiders won the lat matchup 46-44 on their homecourt in December of 2014.

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