The Auburn men's basketball team's identity is slowly coming into focus as the Tigers continue their nonconference slate.
So far, the Tigers have relied heavily upon on the team's veterans, as well as newcomer Isaac Okoro, who proved clutch down the stretch and hit the game-winner with less than five seconds left to give the Tigers a 70-69 win over South Alabama on Tuesday.
Okoro, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy and J'Von McCormick are averaging more than 30 minutes a game through the team's first two contests — wins over respected nonconference opponents Georgia Southern and Davidson —while Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore are seeing about 20 minutes apiece on the inside.
Newcomers Devan Cambridge, Jamal Johnson, Tyrell Jones and Allen Flanigan have also figured into the playing rotation to some degree.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said he's been most impressed so far with the Tigers' preparation for games.
"They bought into the Davidson scout. They paid attention to it. That is really understandable from the five seniors because they’ve been there before," he said. "The new guys can’t believe how much film we watch. They can’t believe the details of a scouting report and the interests of the coverages. The ideas is this, it’s not one size fits all. What we called against Davidson is not going to be what we call offensively against South Alabama because it’s not the stuff that’s going to work against that defense.
"I was most impressed with how they were able to buy in with what we’re trying to do so far. Now, can we keep that going?"
Last season, the Tigers thrived off of turning steals into fast-break opportunities and points; that hasn't been the case so far this season,as they've only amassed nine steals through the first two games, compared to opponents' 18. Most of the Tigers' scoring chances have come through half-court sets. Scoring has been distributed pretty well between Doughty, Okoro, Purifoy and McCormick, who are all averaging more than 10 points a game.
"I saw Samir Doughty play really well against Davidson. He was in all the right places at the right times. He played with great leadership," said Pearl.
Wiley's biggest contribution has come on the glass, where he's averaging close to 10 rebounds a game so far while putting up nine points a contest.
The biggest revelation has been the play of Okoro, who led the Tigers in scoring against Davidson and is averaging 14 points a game.
Okoro's performance so far this season has been encouraging, but not surprising, said Pearl.
"He’s got really good basketball IQ. He’s picked up on everything," he said. "It’s really fortunate that he was our most talented freshman who we thought could be our best freshman by virtue of who he was, where he was ranked and how good he was. Then also, I don’t know if it’s always a direct correlation, to be making the easiest transition as far as picking up the concepts. I’m playing him at two positions. He’s playing 3 and 4. That’s really hard to do. He’s on it. He’s all over it. He’s a really smart player. He’s been a great addition. We have to continue to get more experience with him.”
After taking care of South Alabama on the road Tuesday night, the Tigers will now turn their attention to a home matchup against California State University-Northridge at 6 p.m. on Friday at Auburn Arena.
The game will be televised on the SEC Network.