AUBURN, Ala. – With the second semester looming, it is safe to say the Tigers aced their first term.
Auburn capped off a 12-1 start to the season with a 98-77 victory against Cornell Saturday afternoon inside Auburn Arena. The Tigers won their 12th game before the calendar year for just the third time in program history, and the first since 1998.
“We obviously out-manned [Cornell], and now we head into SEC play 12-1,” head coach Bruce Pearl said after the game. “I’m very proud of the fact that the last two years Auburn has the best winning percentage in non-conference in the SEC.
“We beat some really good teams. We’ve had some good wins. I’m very proud of that because my goal in coming to Auburn was to bring credibility and competitiveness to our basketball program.”
Credibility? Check. Competitiveness? Check.
Here are three takeaways from Auburn’s 10th consecutive win.
Playing in his 13th career game, Chuma Okeke has developed into his own in his first campaign on The Plains.
The freshman notched his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench for the Tigers. It was the sixth time the Atlanta, Ga. native has scored 10-plus points and the seventh pulling down at least six boards this season.
“I feel like I’m getting stronger and quicker,” Okeke stated. “I also feel like I’m being more verbal on the court telling my teammates where they need to be. Also, on the receiving end, I’m listening and following the direction.”
During Auburn’s 10-game winning streak, Okeke has contributed 7.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and has also totaled six steals and five blocks on the defensive end.
“Chuma had the quietest double-double out there,” Pearl said. “I’m not sure how he did it. He made some big plays, but I still want more from him. He’s one of those guys, even though he’s a freshman, who can stand up for our team.”
The one thing that is praised constantly by each coach and player in the program every day: Chemistry.
“We have a lot of chemistry,” Okeke said. “It first started when we went to Italy and it just keeps on building and building. I think that’s carrying over to when we play, too.”
Coach Pearl agreed with Okeke following the triumph Saturday afternoon.
“Our chemistry was good. Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore are great examples. You don’t drop off, they support one another. Chuma Okeke and Desean Murray are also good examples of that. We’re really excited to be in the position that we’re in.”
The Tigers will need to continue to be a tight-knit bunch as Southeastern Conference play tips off soon.
SEC Play Next Up
Auburn will have little time to relish in its highly successful non-conference slate as league play revs up Tuesday night in Knoxville, Tenn. against the Volunteers.
“The league is the best it’s been and the deepest it’s been,” Pearl said. “It’s going to be a grind night in and night out. Physically, it’s going to be a challenge, but I think we are also prepared.”
The SEC currently has nine teams ranked in the Top 60 of the NCAA RPI, including a nation-best four in the Top 18. Tennessee leads the conference at No. 7, followed by Texas A&M (No. 8), Arkansas (No. 15) and Missouri (No. 18). Auburn entered the Cornell game at No. 27.
“It’s a different intensity,” Bryce Brown said. “Everybody is playing for one goal and that’s to get to March. We are going to get that through all the new guys’ heads. We are going to try and make a run at it.”
Six teams are also ranked or receiving votes in the latest Associated Press Top 25, including Auburn, which received votes and had five points in the national weekly poll.
“We got big goals this year,” Anfernee McLemore stated. “We had some adversity going into the season, so a lot of guys counted us out. It’s up to us now to have that chip on our shoulders and come out every game showing that we can still play basketball in Auburn.”
Tip-off for Auburn’s lid-lifter is set for 6 p.m. CT on the Auburn Sports Network and ESPNU.
— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) December 30, 2017
— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) December 31, 2017