By Charles Goldberg
Bruce Pearl figures Auburn's trip to Mexico was a split decision over basketball teams with a real shot to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers beat Texas Tech on Tuesday, but then ran into red-hot No. 17 Purdue on Wednesday, falling 96-71 under a barrage of 3-point shooting in the finals of the Cancun Challenge. The Boilermakers hit 17 3-pointers and out-rebound Auburn 39-23.
Auburn was in it at halftime, trailing 43-41. An 18-2 Purdue run in the second half changed all of that. The Tigers and Purdue each left the court with 4-1 records.
Danjel Purifoy led Auburn with 22 points and Mustapha Heron scored 13. They're the first Auburn freshmen to score in double figures in their first five college games since Wesley Person did it in his first 14 games in the 1990-91 season. Purdue countered with six in double figures.
A day after losing to Auburn, Texas Tech beat Utah State 75-51 in Wednesday's other game.
"You look at how good Texas Tech is. They slapped Utah State," Pearl said. "Texas Tech is going to be an NCAA Tournament team. So, we got one win over an NCAA Tournament team. We got a loss against a team that is probably going to be a Sweet 16-type tournament team. We beat three good teams in North Florida, Georgia State and Eastern Kentucky. We're where I kind of expected us to be."
Pearl said Auburn, despite its second-half dry spell Wednesday, "actually scored around the rim a little bit better than I thought we would. I thought we had to make 3s. I thought we had to make shots. We didn't. But, boy, did they."
Purdue shot 76 percent in the second half, 65.4 percent for the game. Carsen Edwards led Purdue with 21 points.
Still, it was close at halftime.
"It does tell you the potential that we have. We are a young team," Pearl said.
The first half was all over the place. The Tigers stayed closed early until Purdue went on an 18-4 run to take a 38-27 lead. A shot or two later, Auburn went on a 12-0 and would lead 41-40. Purdue hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to take a 43-41 halftime advantage.
Purifoy was hot early and scored 13 in the first half. Auburn was in striking distance despite being outrebounded 21-13. Auburn cooled off from there.
Auburn will try to rebound when they play host to South Carolina Upstate on Tuesday night.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine