The No. 8 Auburn men's basketball team took care of business at home Tuesday night, defeating the UNC Asheville Bulldogs 67-41.
After the trip to Maui over Thanksgiving, the Tigers are currently in the midst of a three-game homestand. Last Wednesday night, the team put on a show in front of the home crowd, thrashing the Saint Peter's Peacocks 99-49. Auburn was looking to do more of the same against the visiting UNC Asheville, who coming in, was in the midst of a six-game losing streak.
While the Tigers won the game handily and there were lots of positives to take away, the victory didn't come without some struggles.
The Tigers got off to a rather slow start, shooting only 31% from the field through the first 10 minutes of the first half. This resulted in Auburn only holding a six-point lead a quarter of the way through the ball game to a team they were favored to beat by over 38 points prior to tipoff. The team was getting the shots they were looking for, they just were not falling in.
Instead of falling apart or panicking like many other teams across the country would do, Auburn responded to their offensive woes with some stifling defense.
During those first 10 minutes of the game, every time an UNC-Asheville player attempted to attack the rim, they were immediately met by an Auburn player who proceeded to swat any shot away. The team started with six blocks during this span and stayed committed to guarding with high intensity. This resulted in UNC-Asheville only scoring 18 points the first half, shooting a measly 29.2% from the field and gave Auburn a 15 point lead heading into the break.
The Tigers maintained this defensive energy throughout the course of the game and were able to force the Bulldogs to turn the ball over 25 times, with 13 of those turnovers coming from Auburn steals. They were also able to hold UNC-Asheville to only 41 points on 31.1% shooting for the entire game. The most impressive defensive statistic of the game though was that the team blocked 12 shots, five of those coming from the 6'11" Austin Wiley.
Wiley was also the leading scorer of the game with 14 points in another standout performance for him. Samir Doughty was right behind Wiley with 13 points, six rebounds and a pair of steals. Malik Dunbar continued his impressive stretch of play with 8 points, seven rebounds and two steals off the bench.
Though Auburn had its worst offensive performance of the year only, scoring 67 points, this performance shouldn't be concerning for fans. To provide some positives, Auburn wind up hitting 47.9% of their shots by the end, had nine three-pointers as a team, and tallied 19 assists by the end of the game. The team is also averaging 89 points per game this season and were getting the shots they were looking for, they just experienced a poor shooting performance. Games like these will be more of a rarity throughout the year rather than a regular occurrence.
The game did experience its fair share of highlights, many coming from Jared Harper's dimes. Harper had a sick bounce pass to Bryce Brown in transition for an easy layup towards the end of the 1st half. In the second half, Harper threw a pair of alley-oops to Horace Spencer and Malik Dunbar, who both finished those passes with authority. Towards the end of the game, the team's walk-ons also got some playing time, with fan favorite Will Macoy swatting a shot out of bounds, receiving cheers from the student section afterward.
It wasn't Auburn's best performance of the year, but the team still provided a great effort overall and walked away with the win.
The Tigers will look to carry on its three-game winning streak into their next game against the Dayton Flyers this Saturday at Auburn Arena.
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