T.J. Dunans (above) is one of the seniors who will be honored on Saturday.
Auburn, Ala.--Looking to snap a two-game losing streak, honor the seniors and build some momentum for next week’s SEC Basketball Tournament, Coach Bruce Pearl's Auburn Tigers Tigers will try to win a rematch vs. Missouri on Saturday at Auburn Arena.
Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CST for a game that will be televised on the SEC Network (XM 191, Sirius 113).
Auburn won the first matchup this year, a 77-72 contest on January 7th. Auburn outscored Mizzou 43-37 to pick up its first SEC win of the season in Columbia.
In that contest Mustpaha Heron scored 16 points and pulled in nine rebounds to lead Pearl’s team. Bryce Brown added 13 points while Jared Harper and Horace Spencer, who is out until next season with an injury, added 10 points apiece.
Missouri comes into the contest with a five-game losing streak and a 7-22 overall record and a 2-15 mark in SEC games.
Jordan Barnett leads Missouri in scoring at 12.2 points per game and the 6-7, 215 junior is averaging 5.9 rebounds. He scored 20 points and pulled in six rebounds vs. Auburn in January.
Kevin Puryear, a 6-7, 243 sophomore, is averaging 10.9 points and 6.0 rebounds.
Terrence Phillips, a 5-11, 180 sophomore guard, is averaging 10.4 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds.
Auburn will be trying to bounce back from a 79-68 loss to Georgia on Wednesday. Missouri lost 60-43 on Tuesday to Texas A&M.
“Just from an Xs and Os standpoint, a basketball standpoint, when you’re playing teams like we’re going to play, Missouri or Georgia, and they do ball screen offenses, we will see a lot of ball screen with Missouri just like we did against Georgia,”?Pearl said.
“You bring a big guy out from the basket and then you need another big in there to protect,” he said. “Our other big has been Danjel Purifoy or T.J. Lang. You don’t have that same protection when you do bring Austin (Wiley) or Anfernee (McLemore) away from the basket. That is something that teams have exploited a little bit against us and we’ll see it again tomorrow.
“We have prepared for it, we’ve drilled it,” Pearl noted. “Hopefully, we can do a better job with our ball screen defense. That has been pretty good for us historical, and it needs to be as far as getting after Missouri. Missouri’s record is not a true reflection of his good this basketball team is.
“They have played everybody tough. Obviously, we know they’re coming in here with quite a losing streak on the road and they want to try to break that losing streak this year. They have got a lot to play for. If we beat Missouri, we’ll most likely play Missouri again on Wednesday.”
Ronnie Johnson has been a contributor as a backup point guard this season.
The Tigers will honor four senior players on Saturday. The group includes T.J. Dunans, LaRon Spencer, Devin Waddell and Ronnie Johnson. None of those players has been starting in recent games, but Pearl is likely to have all four in the starting lineup on Saturday.
Dunans is averaging 7.8 points and 3.5 rebounds, Johnson is averaging 7.8 points and 2.3 assists, Smith is averaging 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds while former walk-on Waddell is averaging 0.7 points and 0.6 rebounds in limited playing time.
Two of the four honorees are graduate transfers.” I think it’s a great rule because I think you should reward somebody, a student athlete who can graduate in three or four years and have the opportunity to transfer,” Pearl said.
LaRon Smith joined the Tigers as a graduate transfer for the 2016-17 season.
“In LaRon Smith’s case he had played mid-major basketball for his whole career and really wanted a taste of playing at the high major level. If you look back one of his better games was against Purdue earlier in the year--he had a big game. He has definitely had his moments for us.
“Had Austin Wiley not gotten eligible at mid-semester, which, of course, we weren’t certain would happen, LaRon Smith would be an everyday player for us. And LaRon is on track to get his masters degree in July and I think he’s accomplished a lot of what he wanted to accomplish short of the fact that his season, his playing time really dropped off after we got Austin.
“The big thing for Ronnie would be, he got a chance here when he was on the floor,” Pearl said. “Ronnie is very aggressive offensively and so even though he wasn’t on the floor 30 minutes as a starter, instead he’s on the floor 18-20 minutes coming off the bench. When he is on the floor he still gets to play the game with some real freedom so you get a chance to see what Ronnie can do. If you look at some of our big wins this year, Ronnie carried the ball and so he definitely has something to be really proud of as far as that’s concerned.
“T.J. Dunans got off to a great start last year, got hurt, did finish the year playing some point guard, which is probably his best position,” Pearl said of the juco transfer. “That was a great thing for T.J. to be able to play (point guard) for five or six games down the stretch last year. I think ultimately that’s going to be his position when he plays professionally, and then this year he was MVP of the Classic out there against Oklahoma. He knocks down the buzzer-beater to beat Mercer. He has a career-high at Rupp Arena. Kind of like our team, he has his moments. And so from that standpoint I’m really happy for T.J. that he got a chance to do that.
Devin Waddell is shown in action at the SEC Tournament.
“Devin’s sophomore year, he is an everyday player for us,”?Pearl pointed out about Waddell. “In the SEC Tournament, when we were really short-handed in the semi-finals, he has to start and he holds Karl Towns to zero field goals. And that is pretty significant. I think Towns made eight free throws, but that is a pretty cool thing for Devin.
“Devin is such a great teammate, a great student athlete and a great kid, we are going to miss Devin a lot as far as being a wonderful, wonderful young man and a great guy to have in the locker room.”