Harper leads No. 11 Auburn to 101-58 win over South Alabama
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Jared Harper opened the game with an alley-oop pass to Anfernee McLemore and drained a 3 -pointer a minute later.
It was that kind of opening night for Harper and No. 11 Auburn. The point guard had 20 points, 13 assists and six 3-pointers to lead the Tigers to a 101-58 win over South Alabama on Tuesday night in the season opener for both teams.
“We played extremely well,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We would have beat a lot of people tonight.
“The adversity we’re facing is we have eight scholarship guys (available). Have three front line players right now. We can’t get too happy.”
Sporting their highest preseason ranking since 1999, the Tigers raced to a big early lead and kept adding to it. They had six players score in double figures and made 18 3-pointers.
Harper set the tone early and added a behind-the-back pass not long before heading to the bench. He committed just one turnover and was 6 of 10 from 3-point range.
“He’s just so special, so much fun to watch,” Pearl said. “He’s in command of his team. He’s in command of what we do. He’s increased his knowledge so much.
“He knows where everybody’s supposed to be. He knows what I should call and what I shouldn’t call.”
Chuma Okeke scored 20 points and had nine rebounds and five assists. Malik Dunbar had 16 points, all in the second half.
“We just knew we had to start the season out right, a lot of energy,” Okeke said.
VCU transfer Samir Doughty had 14 points in his Auburn debut after sitting out last season. Bryce Brown scored 12 and Anfernee McLemore 11.
Doughty has been limited in practice by an ankle injury, but didn’t show much rust.
“It was just good to get back out there,” he said. “Happy I got to play. No one really expected me to play this early.”
Rodrick Sikes led South Alabama with 25 points and made five 3-pointers.
Josh Ajayi had 10 points for the Jaguars, who were 17-of-46 shooting (37 percent).
“We didn’t handle the environment very well,” South Alabama coach Richie Riley said. “We didn’t handle it when things went bad.”
South Alabama: The Jaguars started the Richie Riley coaching era off with a lopsided loss. The Jaguars called two time outs in the first 86 seconds in a rough start.
Auburn: The Tigers didn’t leave any room for an upset risk with their most-hyped team in years. Auburn made its first six shots, five of them 3-pointers. Auburn was 12 of 17 from 3-point range in the first half.
Auburn center Austin Wiley’s return will have to wait. He sat out the game with a left foot injury. Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were held out last season because of NCAA rules violations. Purifoy is eligible to return for the UAB game on Dec. 15.
Auburn had 24 assists on 38 baskets. It’s the most assists for the Tigers since they had 24 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in December 2013.
South Alabama plays its home opener against Huntingdon on Saturday.
Auburn faces a big test Friday night when it hosts No. 25 Washington. Pearl hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Wiley playing in the game.