By Greg Ostendorf
Auburn knew it was going to be tested Wednesday night playing on the road against a solid Dayton team that has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the previous four seasons. In what was the Tigers’ first true road game of the season, they passed the test with flying colors and left town with an impressive 73-60 victory.
“It was a great win in a tremendous environment,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said after the game. “I told the team that these Dayton basketball fans are smart basketball fans – some have been here a long, long time – and they saw a really good Auburn team that played really hard, changed defenses and kept [the Flyers] off-balance.
“To take this team on the road, it’s a good win for the league. I’m glad because the league is off to such a great start, and I’m glad we’re going to be able to contribute to that a little bit.”
Here are three takeaways from Auburn’s win at Dayton.
1. Defense, defense, defense
There was a point in the game with under two minutes to go where Dayton had trimmed Auburn’s lead to eight and had a chance to make it six with another bucket. One of the big men went up strong for a dunk, but Auburn’s Anfernee McLemore met him at the rim and swatted the ball away for his fifth block of the game.
That was the story of the night for the Tigers. From blocking shots to forcing turnovers to taking charges, they were more aggressive on the defensive end than they had been.
“We worked really hard on man-to-man, but we changed how we were guarding from Charleston,” Pearl said. “We start¬ed to hedge out on ball screens more and we stopped switching as much. They expected us to switch, so that change bothered them. About the time they figured that out, we went to zone and then that bothered them for a while.”
McLemore was a catalyst off the bench, in particular on defense, as he finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots Wednesday.
2. Freshman spark
Okeke, like McLemore, came off the bench for the Tigers, but it didn’t take long before he made his presence felt. With Dayton on a 13-0 run, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound freshman threw down an alley-oop dunk to get his team going again. Then he stepped out and hit a three-point shot. Then after knocking two free throws, he hit another shot from distance. And then another.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 30, 2017
In just 14 minutes, Okeke had 13 points and six rebounds to help propel Auburn to a 35-24 lead at the intermission. He finished the game with 15 points and eight rebounds.
“I think we came out and played well,” Okeke said. “We just went with the game plan and what the coaches told us to do. We executed that plan and that helped us get the win.”
3. Cleaning the glass
In 32 games last year, Auburn only outrebounded its opponent 10 times. It was a point of emphasis coming into this year, and counting Wednesday’s game where the Tigers won the rebounding edge, 38-32, they have now outrebounded their opponent in all six of their games this season.
McLemore led the way with his 13 rebounds, but seven of the nine players who played pulled down a rebound and four different players finished with six or more boards.
Auburn will look to make it seven straight games when it hosts George Mason on Sunday.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: