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'Pay great dividends' - Auburn seeks SEC Tournament success in Nashville
Mustapha Heron made the SEC All-Freshman Team.
March 8, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. -

Bruce Pearl sees a commonality between his first Auburn team -- the one that won three SEC Tournament games for the first time in 30 years -- and his current edition -- the high-scoring, freshman-dominated group.

Quality defense created success.

"That was the focus two years ago when we went up to Nashville and won three games," Pearl said. "It was because we guarded for three straight games, I mean really guarded. We'll see if we can improve in that area.

"Some of the things you can control more are your defense and your rebounding. When we win, we've defended well. We defended well against Missouri."

That was last Saturday, when Auburn defeated Mizzou 89-78, setting up a rematch Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in Nashville.

"We played very well on Senior Night with a lot of emotion, and it was just a 10-point win," Pearl said.

Auburn ranks No. 2 in the SEC in scoring, averaging 80 points per game in league play. If Auburn, the No. 11 seed, can beat Missouri for the third time this season, the Tigers would meet No. 6 Ole Miss Thursday in the late game, scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

Pearl said playing on consecutive days, should the Tigers be in that position, will not be an issue.

"I don't think it will be a problem because you practice every day, so playing every day, probably the kids enjoy that more than practicing," he said.

"We've got a very young team that I would imagine is just going to be excited about the tournament atmosphere. The hardest one is going to be the first one. The excitement will build. The arena will fill and they'll feel like they're a part of March madness a little bit more if you can stick around for a few days."

With 18 wins, Pearl says he thinks "it would take a couple" more for Auburn to merit an NIT bid.

"So often we've been playing this year knowing that we needed this one or we needed that one," Pearl said. "Some we got, some we didn't. This is another game where if you win you advance and improve your chances of going to the NIT, and if you don't, then you don't. We've played with that pressure before.



"For us to be able to win a couple games with a young team would pay great dividends as we move forward. Just to know we were in it, and then figure out what it is we need to do to stay in it longer and complete for championships."

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

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