No. 12 Auburn looks to stay unbeaten against NC State

NCAA Men's Basketball

Auburn is off to its best start since the 1998-99 team won its first 17 games, but the No. 12 Tigers (9-0) can’t credit their free-throw shooting for their success.

Going into Thursday night’s home game against North Carolina State (8-2), the Tigers are connecting at a 63.3 percent pace for the season, which ranks 314th out of 350 Division I teams in NCAA statistics, after going only 13 of 28 from the stripe in a 67-61 win over Saint Louis last Saturday, their most recent outing.

Coach Bruce Pearl said he had an on-campus mental health specialist come speak to the team about the issue recently, but added he doesn’t want to make too much of a big deal about it.

“I don’t want them thinking about it too much because I think we’ve got good free-throw shooters going to the line,” he said. “Whether it’s focus or concentration, but it’s clearly a pattern. We spend plenty of time at practice. We’re going the same things that we did last year.”

The Tigers made 71.1 percent of their attempts last season and had two players, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, top the 80-percent mark.

Senior guard Samir Doughty leads the starters this season at 76.9, but guard Jamir Johnson, a backup shooting 83.3 percent, is the only other contributor better than 70 percent. But he has only 12 attempts.

“We’ve been working a lot on our free throws a lot,” Doughty said. “Coach makes us shoot a lot of free throws, and players have been coming in individually to work on their free throws. It’s just gaining more confidence whenever we step up to the free throw line.”

Free throws may be secondary concern against the Wolfpack. The two teams met last season and combined to make 47 turnovers. The Tigers had 27 in their 78-71 loss.

“We can’t beat no team like that in the country turning the ball over that much,” Doughty said. “That’s something we’re going to focus on. We’re going to focus on not turning the ball over.”

The Wolfpack have won their last three games after having a five-game winning streak snapped with an 83-78 loss to Memphis last month. But they needed a successful half-court heave from guard Markell Johnson for their 79-76 win over UNC-Greensboro in their last outing.

Johnson is averaging 13.0 points a game and will be the best guard the Tigers have faced this season, Pearl said. He is one of five players averaging in double figures for the Wolfpack, with guard C.J. Bryce leading with a 15.9 average. Guard Braxton Beverly is only a couple of field goals short of averaging double digits.

“We have a balanced team,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said. “You can pick up a stat sheet after a game and there may be any guy who can lead us in scoring. We’ve been averaging four or five guys in double digits. That’s what makes us unique.”

–Field Level Media

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