By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Nothing would ease the sting of losing a 23-point second-half lead more than knocking off a team ranked in the top 10 in RPI.
That’s the opportunity Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers (16-9, 5-7) have Tuesday at 6 p.m. when No. 15 Florida (20-5, 10-2) visits Auburn Arena.
“They’ve won their last five by an average of 25, and they’re playing really well,” Pearl said. “They’ve got great depth, they’ve got great athletes, they’ve got great length and they’re very engaged defensively. They are all bought into their roles and what they’re doing.”
After breaking down what went wrong in Auburn’s 90-84 loss Saturday at Ole Miss, which Pearl called “the most disappointing loss since I’ve been at Auburn,” the Tigers’ coach found two positives.
“We did do well enough to have a 23-point lead on the road at Ole Miss,” Pearl said. “The other thing we did is we didn’t quit. We still, even late, came back, made some shots, turned them over a little bit and showed some heart, showed some character.”
Pearl joked that, against Florida, teams are not often in a position where protecting a big lead is an issue.
“They’re the fifth best defensive team in the country,” Pearl said. “They turn you over 9, 10 times a game. They score 27 percent of their points off turnovers. If we don’t take care of the ball, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Auburn will be without forward Horace Spencer, whom Pearl said was scheduled to have season-ending surgery on Thursday. Spencer injured his shoulder Jan. 31 against Tennessee.
“We miss his stability and we miss his toughness, and we miss our brother,” Pearl said.
Pearl hopes TJ Lang will be able to play against the Gators. Lang missed the Ole Miss game with the flu and was unable to practice on Sunday.
“Our locker room is really good,” Pearl said. “Our guys are grinding. They’re on time, they’re on target.”
Pearl says carryover – learning lessons early in one one’s career, applying them later – will benefit Auburn, especially the Tigers’ core underclassmen.
“You’re looking at the foundation of our program being built and being laid in these experiences that we go through. They’re experiences that teams need to have. Now you bring those guys back, and we remember in the offseason how we weren’t able to hold on to a lead, or didn’t do this defensively, and then we work on it. And we train and we condition accordingly.
“That’s how you build a program, and that’s how you build a championship program. The only way you learn it is by doing.”
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) February 13, 2017
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) February 14, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer