The Auburn men's basketball team will try to shake off the rust from a more than week-long layover since its last game when the Tigers travel to Birmingham on Saturday to face Saint Louis in the Mike Slive Invitational.
The matchup against the Billikens marks only the second game Auburn has played in December; the Tigers last hit the court on Dec. 5 when a second-half comeback propelled them to an 81-78 overtime win over Furman.
That win helped move the 10th-ranked Tigers into the top 10 of the Coaches Poll for the first time since last January, and at 8-0 Auburn is the only remaining undefeated team in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers jumped two spots this week to move to No. 12 in the AP Poll.
Against Furman, the Tigers displayed their grit, fighting through a poor night of shooting from beyond the arc and a 14-point deficit with 16 minutes left in the game to pull out the win.
"We’ve faced some adversity," said coach Bruce Pearl after the game. "We’re fortunate to be undefeated at this point. I think everybody is aware and cognizant of where we are at right now."
Freshman Isaac Okoro was clutch once again down the stretch, scoring six in the extra frame, including two free throws with one second left to seal the game. For his efforts, Okoro was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time this season. Okoro has made a significant impact on both ends of the court this year, averaging 13.8 points and 4.9 rebounds a game, while also pitching in seven steals and eight blocks.
He joins three other Tigers who are scoring in double figures — Samir Doughty, whose 18.5 points a game ranks fourth in the SEC, Austin Wiley (11) and Danjel Purifoy (10.4).
Wiley has begun making the type of impact that was anticipated when he signed with the Tigers. In addition to his larger scoring presence, Wiley pulled down nine rebounds a game, good for second in the SEC. Wiley still has more room to grow, though, as long as he gets enough opportunities, as he only shot five times against Furman, making four.
"We have to do a better job of passing the ball," said Pearl. "He should get more than five shots. Our guys do a lousy job of getting Austin the ball."
J'Von McCormick has also elevated his play this season, ranking third in the conference with 6.4 assists per game.
In addition to Anfernee McClemore, who is averaging 7.9 points and leads the team in blocks with 13, the Tigers are getting solid contribution from Jamal Johnson, Devan Cambridge and Allen Flanigan, all of whom are averaging more than 10 minutes a game. After those four, the minutes drop steeply.
"Our bench needs to continue to develop because that’s the room for the most growth," said Pearl.
On Saturday, the Tigers will face a Saint Louis team that sits at 8-1 overall, with the only setback coming against Seton Hall. The Billikens average about 74 points a game, while giving up only 63. They are led by a dynamic duo in guard Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French, who both average a double-double at 15.1 points 11 rebounds and 14.9 points and 10.4 rebounds, respectively.
Freshman guard Gibson Jimerson also has made an early impact coming off the bench, with 11.3 points a game while shooting better than 45 percent from three-point range. Point guard Yuri Collins isn't much of a threat to score, but distributes the ball effectively, with 5.9 assists per game.
The Tigers and Billikens will meet at 3 p.m. Saturday in Birmingham as part of the Mike Slive Invitational. The game will be televised on ESPN2.