Bruce Pearl watches the Tigers' slow start at Vanderbilt
By Charles Goldberg
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Not even Bruce Pearl could change Auburn's luck in Memorial Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Vanderbilt beat Auburn 64-52 in their SEC opener in a place where the Tigers haven't won since 2000, and not even Pearl's success here from his days at Tennessee could change that.
Oh, Auburn tried, though. The Tigers trailed by 19 in the first half, but were down only 5 points with two minutes left. That was enough for Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings to be impressed with Pearl's first season at Auburn.
"Bruce has done a great job with them," Stallings said. "They're so much better right now than they were early in the season. That's a testament to his, and his staff's, coaching ability and what they've done."
Auburn fell to 8-6. Vanderbilt improved to 11-3, thanks to a solid first half and Auburn struggling to find the basket. The Tigers only shot 21 percent in the first half.
"We can't have the first half like we had, especially on the road," said Auburn guard Antoine Mason. "We missed too many shots and we didn't get into our defense."
Vandy led 11-9 with 11:57 left in the first half, but then it was 23-11, 33-14 and then 33-19 at halftime. Mason led Auburn with 16 points. James Stakam led Vandy with 14.
"They played hard and physical and we played hard and physical," Stallings said. "I thought they guarded the fire out of us, especially in the half-court. They made us look ugly."
Pearl was 8-4 against Vandy when he was Tennessee's coach, including a 3-3 mark in Memorial Gymnasium. But he couldn't add to that after the Tigers started so slowly.
"When we don't play with that energy, getting after people, and turning people over, then what we do is just OK. I think our guys learned that. I think our guys saw that," Pearl said.
That assessment applied to the first half. Auburn outscored Vandy 33-31 in the second half, including making it 55-50 down the stretch. Pearl said that run had him thinking about some of his Tennessee's wins here.
"When we were making our run, I thought we were going to steal another one in here. I really did. 'Here it comes…'" he said.
"I'm proud of the way with the way our guys competed, but not pleased with our execution, especially in the first half."
But, overall, "we just keep making runs and keep coming at you. I'm proud of my guys. We're trying to carve out our identity. Our kids didn't quit."
Vandy outrebound Auburn 47-27, but Pearl said a lot of that was because Auburn took 13 more shots than Vandy.
"We took more shots and missed more shots. It was really about us taking more shots," Pearl said.
The Tigers will try to bounce back against Missouri at 6 p.m. Saturday in Auburn Arena.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine