Big Task Awaits Auburn's Little Point Guard As the Tigers Open Their SEC Basketball Schedule

Auburn's Jared Harper will be facing one of the SEC's top guards when the Tigers open their SEC schedule vs. the Georgia Bulldogs.

Jared Harper (above) is shown in action in his team's road victory vs. UAB.

Auburn, Ala.--One of three Auburn basketball freshmen scoring in double figures as Coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers begin SEC play on Thursday, Jared Harper notes that he isn’t surprised with his role on the team.

The point guard noted that summer workouts on the AU campus with associate head coach Chuck Person and graduate assistant coach Frankie Sullivan were important in getting him ready. “They just put that confidence in me that I would be able to produce,” Harper said.

The five-foot-ten, 160-pound freshman is averaging 12.8 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds as a starter for the 10-2 Tigers, who will take on the 8-4 Georgia Bulldogs at 6 p.m. CDT at soldout Auburn Arena.

Following victories over Oklahoma and UConn last week, the Tigers are on a four-game winning streak. Harper contributed to the last two victories with 21 points vs. Oklahoma and 22 vs. the Huskies to earn SEC Freshman of the Week status. His driving layup in overtime proved to be the game-winning points vs. UConn.

Harper noted that he believes the Tigers are ready to start their SEC schedule. “I definitely think we are all confident now,” he said. “We are 10-2 now and we weren’t projected to be 10-2. Also, we were projected to finish 11th in the league so I think we all have like a chip on our shoulder to go out play every day and prove that we are better than to finish 11th.”

The freshman said the Tigers feel like they let one win slip away, the buzzer-beater loss suffered to Boston College in a neutral site game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He also said the Tigers did not play well in their loss to Purdue in Cancun, Mexico.

“We definitely thought we could have played better, but we are happy with where we are now and are looking forward to SEC play,” Harper said. 

Pearl pointed out that the Tigers need Harper to perform at a high level. “Consistent point guard is like consistent quarterback play--it is the same thing,” the coach said. “Jared has put together some back-to-back performances on both the offensive and defensive end that have allowed us to win games.

“I think that certainly in the two games that we lost, both to Purdue and Boston College, I would say those are games we didn’t get good point guard play from either Ronnie (Johnson) or Jared.”

Photography: David Butler

Jared Harper drives to the basket vs. the UConn Huskies.

Georgia features an outstanding point guard, 5-10 J.J. Frazier, who is averaging 15.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Pearl said the pair of Frazier and 6-8, 240 forward Yante Maten are “the best duo” the Tigers have faced so far this season.

Harper is expected to be matched against Frazier and admitted that playing against the senior will be a challenge. “He is a great player,” Harper said. “He can shoot, he can pass, he can dribble, he is quick, fast--everything. He is projected to be first team All-SEC so he is obviously a great player.

“I?am just locking into ways I can help contain him because I know he is a great player,” Harper added. “He is going to be looking for his shots and looking for his teammates.”

Thursday’s game will be televised on ESPNU and will start at 6 p.m. CDT.

Asked if he has been surprised about the way Harper has performed so far, Pearl said, “I don’t know that I have been surprised because I?have got confidence in Jared, but I know it’s a lot of ask.

“I’m asking a lot out of him, but he is our starting point guard so regardless of whether he is a freshman or a sophomore, or 5-11 or 6-foot-3, whether he’s 160 pounds or 200 pounds, he is our starting point guard so I have a high expectation for him.

“I’m pleased with the fact that he is fearless and he is going to be playing against his hometown team in Georgia that obviously didn’t recruit him,” Pearl added. “He has just got to focus on just playing the game and doing what he does.”

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