With a visit from Kentucky and ESPN’s “College Gameday” coming up this weekend, No. 17 Auburn could be guilty of overlooking Tuesday night’s Southeastern Conference matchup with Ole Miss at Oxford.
But Tigers coach Bruce Pearl emphasizes that’s not going to happen.
“I promise you they’ll have my complete, undivided attention, my focus,” Pearl said of the Rebels. “We lost to them twice last year so it’s obviously a tough matchup for us.”
Sure enough, the Rebels beat last season’s Final Four Tigers by double digits, 82-67, in Oxford and then captured the rematch in Auburn 60-55 on their way to a 20-13 record and berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The current Rebels (10-9, 1-5 SEC) aren’t even on the fringe of NCAA tourney conversations at this point but are coming off a 70-60 road win at Georgia that snapped a six-game losing streak and have the SEC’s top scorer in guard Breein Tyree (18.9 ppg).
Tyree has been dealing with a back issue that sidelined him for the Rebels’ trip to Florida, a 16-point loss. He posted a season- and career-high 36 points in an 80-76 loss to league-leader LSU in his first game back and had 18 in a loss to Tennessee before leading the Rebels with 20 points along with four rebounds, four assists and three steals at Georgia.
“Obviously, Breein Tyree played like one of the best guards in college basketball, which he is,” Rebels coach Kermit Davis said.
The Tigers (17-2, 4-2) are coming off an 80-76 home win over Iowa State in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, but Pearl wasn’t all that happy with the way they closed out the game. They led by double digits for much of the afternoon but saw the Cyclones close to within five points, then four, in the last minute.
“I’m not happy with the way we closed the game out with some bad decisions,” Pearl said. “Hopefully, we can learn from it and sharpen up a little bit.”
Two bright spots in particular were the play of senior guard Samir Doughty and freshman forward Isaac Okoro. Doughty was only 5 of 13 from the field but scored 18 points to go with six rebounds and five assists. Guard J’Von McCormick and forward Danjel Purifoy added 11 points each.
“I thought J’Von, Samir and Isaac did a really good job getting downhill, getting to the rim and turning corners,” Pearl said. “That’s a big part of our offense, and I thought we finished at the rim better today.”
Okoro scored a team-high 19 points with 14 coming in the second half.
“Isaac Okoro is still the nightmare matchup inside and out,” Pearl said.
Okoro was 7 of 11 from the field with a 3-pointer and drew six fouls from the Cyclones.
“Everybody wanted the ball in his hands,” Doughty said. “When one of our players is hot, we’re going to get him the basketball, and he was rolling at the time.”
–Field Level Media