As 2020 came to a close and the New Year rang in, the Auburn Men’s basketball team opened SEC play against the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Texas A&M Aggies. Despite giving tough performances in both games, the Tigers fell short, putting them at 6-4 on the season and still hunting down their first SEC win, which could have come Wednesday night after print deadline against Ole Miss.
It's not too early to talk about the Tigers' lack of success early in conference play, said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl.
"Our struggles, they’re not the kids’ fault. They’re doing the best they can. They’re improving," he said. "When you don’t win, obviously it’s not as much fun and it certainly can affect your confidence. But I think that getting the opportunity to get this experience and learn from their successes and their failures, it’s a really good thing."
Auburn’s struggles of late have been on the defensive side, particularly against Arkansas, where the Tigers allowed 97 points and 31 free throws. They fared better against Texas A&M, but in that game the offense sputtered in the first half and fell just short of a second-half rally as the Aggies managed to score a game-winning layup.
“I’m proud of my kids and the way they battled,” said Pearl following the Texas A&M game. “Offensively, we played bad enough to be completely out of the game. But our kids have got better character than that, and they stayed in it.”
One of the emerging players from the second half of the Texas A&M game was junior Jamal Johnson, who led the team in scoring with 20 points, 17 of which came in the second half.
“Jamal just did a nice job moving the ball. He’s got really good length, he’s got good size and he’s got good range, so he can shoot over the top of a defender," said Pearl. "He led us in shots, he led us in 3-point shots and did a nice job.”
As the Tigers move forward into SEC play, it doesn’t get any easier as they are slated to face down archrivals Alabama on Saturday and Georgia on Wednesday.
The Tide come into the game 8-3 on the season and undefeated in conference play, with convincing wins over Tennessee and Florida.
"We are rebuilding, and obviously it is a process," said Pearl. "As long as we continue to compete and as long as we continue to get better. Because the schedule is going to get better. The schedule is going to get tougher. As we move down the road in the season, we’ve got to get better to continue to be competitive, let alone winning.”
The Tigers will take on the Crimson Tide at home at 11 a.m. on Saturday, with the game being broadcast on ESPN2.