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The Auburn Basketball Tigers Improved to 5-1 With an Uneven Performance Vs. USC-Upstate

Auburn picked up its fifth basketball victory of the season, but Coach Bruce Pearl was not happy with his team's play.

Auburn redshirt freshman forward Danjel Purifoy (above) blocks out seven-foot center Michael Buchanan on Tuesday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Four Auburn players scored in double figures led by 23 points from freshman Mustapha Heron, but the Tigers had more trouble than expected vs. USC-Upstate on the way to a 90-83 basketball victory on Tuesday night.

“I am happy with being 5-1 after six games, but I am not happy with the quality of our play,” said Coach Bruce Pearl.

Pearl noted the Tigers had some “good numbers,” but overall the performance left a lot to be desired. The coach liked his team’s 48 second half points, 52.6 percent shooting after intermission and turning the ball over just seven times to go with 23 assists.

He didn’t like his team being out-rebounded 52-41 and giving up 51 points in the second half.

“We are not playing as well together as we need to,” he said. “I thought Upstate played with better energy and effort than we did. I thought they flew around.”

The coach said he has been careful not to “over-train” his team early in the season, but noted that he believes the Tigers need to work on their conditioning as they head into the month of December.

“I am disappointed we aren’t able to make more plays with our pressure,” Pearl added. “We created a lot of 50-50 balls early in the game and they gobbled most of them up. The reason why you press is to see if you can create turnovers and we need to do a better job in that area.”

For the game the Spartans turned the ball over 15 times, eight more than the Tigers.

The Tigers never trailed, but weren’t able to put the visitors away. Auburn led 79-64 with under five minutes to play, but saw the lead shrink to 86-81 before the they took care of business at the foul line in the closing minute to hold on for the victory.

“I think the fatigue gets to us and the energy level goes down,” Heron said when asked why the Tigers have been outscored in the second half for three consecutive games. “I think that is something we have got to work on.”

Heron hit 7-12 field goals, 2-5 threes and 7-7 free throws as the Tigers improved to 5-1. USC-Upstate fell to 3-4 despite out-rebounding the Tigers 52-41 and making 10 three-pointers, three moe than the home team.

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Freshman guard Mustapha Heron throws a pass on an in-bounds play vs. the Spartans.

Pearl said that he liked what he saw from the freshman guard. “Mustapha Heron continues to play very solidly.”

LaRon Smith scored 15 points off the bench, seven more than his previous Auburn high in the previous game vs. Purdue. “LaRon Smith scored,” Pearl said. “I have got to get him to play better defense.”

Point guards Jared Harper and Ronnie Johnson scored 10 apiece for the Tigers.

Seven-footer Michael Buchanan was the big man literally and figuratively for the Spartans. He hit 7-11 field goals while scoring 20 points and pulling in 15 rebounds. Mike Cunningham  also scored 20 for Upstate.

“We are not playing as well as we should be playing at this point,” Pearl said. “We gave them 19 offensive rebounds. They shot 42 percent, but they chased down a lot of loose balls.”

The coach added, “We did not play with effort and energy on the defensive end and they were able to score 51 in the second half.”

Auburn doubled up the Spartans at the 6:47 mark of the first half after T.J. Dunans hit the first of two free throws to make the score 36-18. However, Upstate out-played the Tigers the rest of the half, including a 10-0 run that helped cut the Auburn lead to 42-32 at intermission.

The Tigers hit 16-41 first half shots (39.0 percent), 4-15 threes and 6-9 free throws. The Spartans hit 12-34 field goals (35.3 percent) in the half while making 5-15 threes and 3-7 free throws.

The Spartans out-rebounded Auburn 28-21 in the half but turned the ball over nine times, seven more than Auburn.

Heron led the Tigers in scoring at the break while Smith came off the bench to contribute 10 points and four rebounds.

In the second half the visitors shot 47.6 percent to improve their average to 41.2 percent for the game. Auburn made 45.5 percent of its field goals and was 13-22 at the foul line. The Spartans hit 9-14 free throws.

Heron said the Tigers can play better, but noted “I think we see the potential, but I?have always heard that potential is the kiss of death. I do know our best basketball is ahead of us.”

Worth Noting, Part 1: Danjel Purifoy, the team’s leading scorer, finished with just six points as he hit 2-8 field goals. However, he had nine assists and just two turnovers, something that won praise from Pearl.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Bryce Brown’s shooting slump continued. The sophomore guard hit 3-12 field goals and was 1-7 on threes on the way to scoring seven points.

Worth Noting, Part 3: Another guard struggling with his shooting, senior T.J.Dunans, was 1-6 from the field as he scored three points.

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Jarrett Stidham, formerly a quarterback at Baylor, attended the game.

Worth Noting, Part 4: Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn showed up just before halftime with quarterback prospect Jarrett Stidham. They watched most of the second half before heading out.

Stat of the Game: Auburn’s point guards, Harper and Johnson, combined for seven assists with just one turnover.

Up Next: The Tigers will play at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Birmingham vs. UAB.

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