No. 15 Auburn remains a work in progress on offense entering its third consecutive home game.
But coach Bruce Pearl likes what he’s seen so far from his defense, which will face a major test when high-scoring Winthrop (2-1) visits the Tigers (2-0) on Tuesday night in Auburn, Ala.
In a 67-59 comeback win Friday over South Florida, the Tigers limited the Bulls to 35.5 percent shooting from the floor (22 of 62), including 14.3 percent from the 3-point line (2 of 14). Auburn also added seven blocks to push its season total to 17.
“Right now, that is going to be what’s going to have to carry us,” Pearl said after the win over USF. “We’re not really good offensively right now. Our defense is going to have to carry us, and it did tonight.”
Auburn’s aggressive, in-your-face defense has been a staple under Pearl, and center Dylan Cardwell’s rebounding effort, emotional play and rim protection has been extremely impactful in the team’s first two games (10 blocks, 11 rebounds).
Cardwell exited the game late against South Florida and his availability is still to be determined for the game with Winthrop. His loss would be a major blow to the Tigers’ frontcourt, especially on the defensive end.
“His effort and energy, his ability to block shots and rebound — Dylan Cardwell was a factor,” Pearl said. “For a man his size, he moves so very well.”
Despite Auburn’s early shooting struggles, point guard Wendell Green Jr. has been the team’s one reliable scoring threat. Green is averaging 18.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game in addition to being a scrappy force defensively.
Versatile guard Allen Flanigan (10.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game) also has been a major contributor after an Achilles injury derailed his junior campaign.
Flanigan scored 18 points off the bench against USF and looked like the guy who, along with Florida’s Tre Mann and LSU’s Trendon Watford, were the only players in the SEC to average 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists during his sophomore campaign (2020-21).
Forwards Chris Moore, Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams will need to pick up the slack for Cardwell — on both ends of the court — if he’s unable to play.
The Eagles have won two straight and feature four double-digit scorers on an offense that averages 74.0 points and 9.7 made 3-pointers per game.
Kelton Talford is Winthrop’s top scorer (18.3) and rebounder (8.0) and its best overall player. But Cory Hightower (16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists) might be the team’s most valuable player due to his versatility and ability to fill it up at any time.
Sin’Cere McMahon (12.3 points, 2.3 assists) is another impact performer for the Eagles, but he’s averaging three turnovers per game, which could be problematic against Auburn’s rugged defense.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” Eagles coach Mark Prosser said before the season. “We’re far from a finished product, but that’s where we’re supposed to be.”
This is the seventh meeting between Winthrop and Auburn. The Tigers are 5-1 in the series.
–Field Level Media