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Auburn riding winning streak, momentum into SEC opener
Jan. 5, 2015

KT Harrell and Auburn looking to win SEC opener at Vanderbilt

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  KT Harrell says he knew what he was getting when Auburn hired Bruce Pearl.

 "I knew he would coach with a lot of energy and passion. He has even exceeded my expectations on that," Harrell said. 

"It just rubs off on everyone else. It makes you want to play a lot harder for him."

Auburn, riding a five-game winning streak, will be looking to play at its hardest when it opens SEC play at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Vanderbilt, a place Auburn has found it difficult to win. The Tigers haven't opened league play with a road win in its last 14 tries. 

"This is part of the journey from where we start," Pearl said.

That's OK, because Harrell, Auburn's leading scorer, says the Tigers are a new team, even from the start of the season. The Tigers lost Matthew Atewe in its exhibition game, but has since gained 7-foot-2 Trayvon Reed, Alex Thompson and welcomed back shooter Antoine Mason, who missed six games with an injury. Guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who missed the last game with a sore shoulder, will probably play; as will Jordon Granger, who left Saturday's win over North Alabama with hamstring and knee soreness.

Oh, and Auburn has the SEC's leading rebounder in Cinmeon Bowers and the second-leading scorer in Harrell.

Auburn has five available players who were in the SEC last year.

"We pretty much have a new team. We have been bonding," Harrell said. "We all mesh really well together. We have been focusing on getting better collectively, and I think we have been doing that the past couple of games."

Or as Pearl said Monday, "I do feel like our team is as prepared as it could be heading into January."

Pearl's tough road and neutral site schedule produced a 1-4 record. But Auburn is 6-1 at home, most recently sweeping Winthrop, Xavier, Texas Southern, Middle Tennessee State and North Alabama. Harrell says he hopes the non-conference schedule will have Auburn ready for SEC play, because the stakes are higher and the competition will be better.

"There will be a lot more talent," he said. "The teams have developed since last year and there were competitive teams last year. 

"We have to start off well. In non-conference, there were a couple of games were we didn’t start off very well, but every night you are playing a good team, so we have to start out well, especially on the road."

Vanderbilt is a young team that is 10-3. Harrell says Auburn has grown thanks to the five-game winning streak.

"It has helped our confidence. We still realize we have to get better," he said.

"We haven’t won a road game yet. We beat Oregon State, but that was at a neutral site. We know that. We are just trying to prepare for Vanderbilt. We know they are a good team. It would be a huge road win for us."

Auburn went 6-12 in the SEC last year, winning two conference road games. But now, Harrell says, "we are 0-0" because non-conference play is over.

"Nobody expects us to be good or win in the SEC, and we know that. If you focus on trying to prove people wrong, you will lose sleep at the end of the night, and not focusing on the task at hand. We just have to focus on us and continuing to get better."

Pearl is hopeful, but won't oversell Auburn's SEC chances.

"We are just trying to work our way off the bottom," he said. "I want to try to instill in my team a desire to continue to try and earn a respect. You have to do it before you can have it. We don’t have it and we don’t deserve it and we haven’t earned it yet. The opportunities are there."

Auburn notes and facts for the Vandy game are here.

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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