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'Effort and intensity' - Mustapha Heron improves defense, Auburn awaits Tennessee
Mustapha Heron scored 17 points and had 6 rebounds in Auburn's win at TCU. Photo courtesy Ray Carlin, USA Today Sports.
Jan. 30, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - Mustapha Heron's offense has been there since day one. Auburn's leading scorer (15.4 ppg) has reached double figures in all 21 games, a freshman record. It's his defense that's coming around.

"I think I've grown all over," said Heron, who is also Auburn's leading rebounder (6.1). "Definitely the last couple games defensively I've really picked it up and shown more effort and intensity on the defensive end, and I think it's helped us."

Heron scored 17 and grabbed 6 rebounds in Auburn's 88-80 win Saturday at TCU in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

"We were together. We were physical. We came out hard. We just really wanted to win that game," said Heron, who scored 15 in the first half against TCU.

"It builds confidence, with that being our third win in the Big 12 this year," Heron said.

But that confidence, says Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, has a limit.

"There's not an ounce of overconfidence at all," Pearl said. "We have issues. Overconfidence isn't one of them."

Auburn (14-7, 3-5) hosts Tennessee (12-9, 4-4) Tuesday at 8 p.m.

"We've just got to come out and be physical," Heron said. "We know that they're going to hit us, so we can't fall over, basically."

Auburn is ranked No. 60 in the NCAA RPI. Tennessee, after three straight wins against Mississippi State, Kentucky and Kansas State, is No. 41.

"They're probably the hottest team in our league as far as who's playing the best right now," Pearl said. "We'll have to play our best basketball to beat them."

Pearl changed Auburn's practice routine this week, after the Tigers' lost last Tuesday 98-69 at South Carolina following a home win the previous Saturday against Alabama.

"After beating Alabama, we did practice on Sunday, we took it easy and then went hard Monday, played Tuesday and didn't have any energy," Pearl said. "Just to change it up, we came in yesterday (Sunday), we practiced hard, and we're going to take it easy today (Monday), and hopefully we'll play with more effort and energy against Tennessee. We're going to have to."

Throughout the season, Pearl has mentioned his goal of Auburn reaching postseason play. The win over TCU, Auburn's fourth road victory of the season, helped the all-important RPI head in the direction that could help the Tigers achieve their goal.

"When you starting getting into the low 50s (RPI), they start talking about the possibility of being on a bubble," Pearl said. "We're in range. That said, we know the task that's in front of us."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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