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Auburn's basketball opener familiar feel for Bruce Pearl
Nov. 13, 2014

Bruce Pearl will be in Auburn Arena, this time for real, for Auburn's season-opener Friday night

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  It was Wisconsin-Milwaukee  or Milwaukee as it likes to be known  that brought Bruce Pearl up from Division II Southern Indiana, that gave him his first chance at big-time basketball, that set his course for a successful run with the Panthers, and then Tennessee and now, he hopes, at Auburn.

Thanks, but Pearl wants to beat Milwaukee when Auburn opens the season at 9 p.m. Friday in Auburn Arena.

It is Pearl who convinced Milwaukee, to come to Auburn, for old time sake, despite the fact it appears to be a tough match for the Tigers. Milwaukee returns three starters from last year's NCAA Tournament team. 

Auburn returns five players, total, and one of those, center Matthew Atewe could be lost for some time after reinjuring a stress fracture in the leg that limited his play last season. The opener is part of an Auburn doubleheader. The women's team plays Troy at 6 p.m., though the men's tickets will carry the day when the women's game is over. Fans can stay in the arena.

The nightcap? Play ball, against your old team, Bruce Pearl. But he says he's not putting as much emphasis on the game as the long-range prospects for Auburn, who had a test run in last Friday's exhibition win over West Alabama.

"This one counts, so from that standpoint it matters, but I am here to build a program and we have to build a foundation," Pearl said. "We are going to win as many games as we can with this group. I would still like this group to play in the postseason. Those are still our goals, and we will learn more about ourselves on Friday than what we knew about ourselves last Friday. 

"What we do with that information is what the season and the program is all about."

Pearl coached Milwaukee for four seasons, from 2001-2005, and went 86-38 including two trips to the NCAA Tournament. Then it was on to Tennessee, then Auburn and now opening night. He'll send out two of good scorers in Antoine Mason, the top returning scorer in the nation from his work at Niagara last season; and KT Harrell, the top returning scorer in the SEC who was named to the All-SEC preseason second team Thursday.

Guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen returns at guard, Jordon Granger moves into the starting lineup at forward and Cinmeon Bowers transferred in from a junior college in Florida, but his home is close to the Milwaukee campus.

Pearl's newest team, his Auburn team, may have to use a small lineup at times with the 6-foot-7 Bowers providing the inside play, especially with Atewe out.

"I think Cinmeon has being doing fine. It is just our issue has become one of depth," Pearl said. "We are already undersized going in here, and losing Matt, it puts us down to where we only have nine scholarship players. So, Cinmeon is going to have to play well. He is going to have to stay out of foul trouble, and teams are going to go at him and try to get him into foul trouble. So, he has got to be able to play through that."

The lack of depth, and keeping players out of foul trouble, has already come into play.

"All of a sudden it does become a numbers game. We could play fast, and we could play really well playing fast. But, can we play it for 40 minutes?" Pearl asked.

He's moving walk-on Devin Waddell into the playing rotation. But Milwaukee has "great size at every position." Mason says Auburn will press on at a fast pace.

"Without that, we really don’t have a chance. We have to play our game," Mason said. "We're not the biggest team, so fast-pace and pressuring people is what we have to do."

The Auburn-Milwaukee game: All the facts.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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