Securing the SEC’s best non-conference record over the past three seasons, No. 12 Auburn beat North Florida 95-49 Saturday at Auburn Arena in the Tigers’ last game before conference play.
“I wanted Auburn to try to be a competitive program,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “That’s a work in progress, but you can reflect a bit on the last three years. We’re not holding the league down. We’ve got wins over Oklahoma, UConn, Xavier, Arizona, Dayton, at TCU. We’ve had some really good wins over the last three years.”
In non-SEC games since 2016-17, Auburn’s record is 34-5.
“The testament to all the guys I came in with to turn the program around, “said junior Anfernee McLemore, who had 13 points, eight rebounds and four steals. “From a program that wasn’t getting much respect to now a national contender.”
“It speaks volumes of the preparation, of the focus,” Pearl said. “You’re supposed to beat the people you can beat. And you’re supposed to have a chance to beat the people you’re not supposed to beat. We’ve done both.”
The Tigers (11-2) harassed the Ospreys (5-9) into committing 33 turnovers, the most since 1990-91, leading to a 41-4 advantage in points off turnovers. Auburn made 20 steals, the most in Pearl’s five seasons on the Plains.
“From an overall standpoint of effort and energy, it was probably our best effort,” Pearl said. “We took them out of everything they wanted to do. I thought our full-court pressure was excellent.”
The Tigers held the Ospreys scoreless for more than five minutes in the second half during a 16-0 run that included Horace Spencer’s first career 3-pointer.
Bryce Brown scored 18 points to lead five Tigers in double figures. Austin Wiley had 13 points and seven rebounds. Chuma Okeke scored 12 points, made five steals and grabbed five rebounds. Malik Dunbar added 11 points.
Jared Harper dished out 10 assists, the fourth time in his career to record double-digit assists. Harper added nine points.
“I demand the kind of effort and energy our kids played with,” Pearl said. “Our fans deserve that.”
Auburn led 45-23 at halftime after forcing 21 turnovers, including 12 steals, four from Okeke.
“Chuma is a great defensive player,” Pearl said. “He’s always in the right place, but he works hard at it. He’s smart. If there’s a 50-50 ball, he’ll get it.”
Brown led the Tigers with 12 points in the half, including three 3-pointers. Brown hit a pair of 3s, sandwiched between a Harper 3-pointer that made Jared the 38th member of Auburn’s 1,000-point club.
Okeke played a key role in Auburn’s 8-0 run to end the half, making a steal then getting a dunk on an assist from J’Von McCormick.
After another Okeke steal, Chuma returned the favor with an alley-oop pass to McCormick. Samir Doughty’s layup with 5 seconds left extended Auburn’s halftime lead to 22.
After a 10-day break, Auburn tips off SEC play at Ole Miss on Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 6 p.m. CT.
“We’ve got something to build on and it’s a great way to go into the new year,” Pearl said. “I’m going to be encouraging our fans to go on that road trip. Ole Miss has tickets available. It’s not that far of a drive, and we need witnesses.”