Observations: Auburn 87, UNC Asheville 62
The Tigers refused to trip up before the big USC showdown, delivering an extremely well-balanced win to their fans in Huntsville.
PG Tre Donaldson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — When Chad Baker-Mazara knocked down a pair of free throws and checked out of the game for Lior Berman with 8:52 left on the clock, he had done something no other Auburn player had done Wednesday night.
Baker-Mazara’s two free throws gave him 11 points, making him the first Tiger to hit double-digits against UNC Asheville. It had taken more than 31 minutes of game time for that to happen.
For a lot of college basketball teams, that would be a bad sign. But not Auburn under Bruce Pearl — especially not this current team.
At that point, all 10 of the Tigers in the regular rotation had hit multiple shots from the field. Berman, the sometimes-used 11th man for Auburn, needed less than three minutes to join his teammates. The Tigers were up by 31 by that point.
“I think this team has a chance, because it’s 10 or 11 guys, to have that kind of balance,” Pearl said afterwards. “So, what are the challenges? The challenge is that Jaylin Williams is not going to have 24 and whatever he had every night. He’s not going to have the opportunity to be (SEC) Player of the Week every week. Neither will Johni Broome. Neither will Aden Holloway. Neither will any of our guys.
“The question in that locker room is: Are they OK with it? How do they feel about it? Every player is going to want a double-double, but the way we have a chance to be the best team we can is to be able to share it like we’ve been sharing it.”
Berman scored on both a paint touch and a 3-pointer, giving him a mini-version of the offensive surge Baker-Mazara had minutes earlier. All 11 of Baker-Mazara’s points came in five minutes of second-half action.
Together, the small forwards contributed 16 of Auburn’s 51 bench points in what would be a breezy 87-62 win in front of an almost exclusively pro-Tigers sellout crowd in Huntsville.
“There's not very many teams in the country that can do that,” said point guard Tre Donaldson, who caught fire late to finish with a team-high 15 points off of the bench. “I feel like we use that as a label of our team. … I feel like that's a big, marquee thing for our team. I feel like we use that to our advantage.”
Auburn finished with one of the most balanced box scores you’re going to find anywhere. The Tigers had 11 different players between five and 15 points. All but one of them pulled down multiple rebounds. Six of them had multiple assists, continuing the team’s hot streak in both ball movement and ball security.
“I think when you have 19 assists and seven turnovers on the heels of 25 and three (against Indiana), that’s indicating we’re sharing it,” Pearl said. “Obviously, it’ll put us in a situation where if we have an injury or we have some foul trouble, we’re going to be able to withstand that.
“It’s a long season.”
It is a long season, and Auburn is only nine games into it. But the Tigers are now 7-2, climbing into the top 10 in the KenPom ratings and playing some incredibly balanced basketball ahead of their home showdown with a star-studded USC team Sunday.
As Pearl said Wednesday night, Auburn will have to play better than it did at times against UNC Asheville in order to beat USC. Still, winning both halves by at least a dozen points — and easily covering the point spread — shows that these Tigers took care of business and didn’t let a trap game get them.
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 87-62 win over UNC Asheville in Huntsville, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
PG Aden Holloway (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
The balance begins with the 1-2 punch at point guard
The offensive production from everyone who touched the floor for the Tigers — even lower-scoring players from this season such as Chris Moore and Chaney Johnson — definitely pops out in the final box score.
Auburn has plenty of experience at four of its five positions on the depth chart, so the balance through most of the rotation might be somewhat expected.
But a huge difference-maker for the Tigers so far has been the production of Holloway and Donaldson at the point guard spot. Holloway is a true freshman still adjusting to the college game. Donaldson, a sophomore, averaged a little more than 10 minutes per game last season.
On Wednesday night, the two young point guards combined for 22 points, seven assists and just two turnovers. Holloway had five of those assists was a +14 in plus/minus, despite going 3-11 from the field. Donaldson was a +11, hitting all six of his 2-point field goals and going 3-4 from the free-throw line.
That’s incredible balance for a pair of underclassmen playing arguably the most important position on the roster. As Pearl has said a few times this season, the Tigers are guaranteed to have a talented floor general out there at all times.
“I feel like when me and Aden are out there, it’s hard to beat us,” Donaldson said. “We bring so much and we’re so much alike. Being able to knock down shots, feed our teammates and get us going and stuff like that. It’s really hard to guard when you’ve got two point guards coming at you all night. There’s no drop-off.”