AUBURN — Auburn basketball is back on the Plains, and like so many times before inside Neville Arena, the Tigers have already rewarded fans with a victory.
Auburn defeated the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) 87-69 in an exhibition game behind a group of talented scorers that will try to find their identity as the season progresses.
Jaylin Williams, one of the true veterans on this team, led the way with 16 points in just 12 minutes due to foul trouble, and he was one of four Tigers to score in double figures.
“Jaylin Williams was terrific,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. “Great pop, great energy, making plays, bouncy.”
Williams was joined in double figures by Wendell Green Jr. with 12, Allen Flanigan with 11, and freshman Tre Donaldson bursting onto the scene with 10 points and a team-leading seven rebounds.
Donaldson came to the Plains as a dual-sport athlete before committing to basketball and is one of Auburn’s younger guards in an experienced backcourt.
“Tre was super solid,” Pearl said. “You could tell he’s confident out there. He’s got good command of the offense. He doesn’t play like a freshman, he doesn’t act like a freshman, he’s got some toughness to him.”
Of the more veteran players, one of the genuine highlights for Pearl was senior Allen Flanigan. Flanigan was a freshman in the 2019-2020 season along with Williams, and he really burst onto the scene during his sophomore season, before a freak Achilles heel injury last season derailed his junior campaign.
In camp, the biggest question mark for the Tigers has been at small forward, with Chance Westry’s knee surgery hampering the start to his freshman season and Flanigan taking a temporary leave from the team before the season.
The veteran took control of the position tonight and showed flashes with three steals, six rebounds and four assists.
“Seeing Al healthy, seeing his athleticism and making plays, that was really good,” Pearl said. “Al was so productive. He was able to get downhill, score through contact. He was effective defensively.”
Auburn had one of the best defenses in the country last season and they locked down UAH from beyond the arc, holding the Chargers to 29% from three point range. The Tigers also tallied up five blocks and 15 steals.
The true issues for Auburn came from deep and at the free-throw line. Last season, Auburn struggled to find that three-point shooting identity that has made many Bruce Pearl-led teams so dangerous, finishing No. 274 in three-point percentage while also shooting the 49th-most attempts per game.
Those issues continued tonight with the Tigers making just 22% of their three-point attempts while shooting 68% from the charity stripe.
“We didn't shoot it well in Israel, and we didn't shoot that well tonight. We've got to get better,” Pearl said.
Exhibition games are rarely a metric for a team’s success in the regular season, but it does give Pearl a chance to experiment with the lineups and see how his players are meshing, especially freshman Yohan Traore and transfer Johni Broome.
He will go back to the drawing board with a little over four days until the Tigers are back in Neville Arena next week.
“We’ve just got to continue to get better,” Pearl said. “We’ll have to be a lot better to beat George Mason on Monday.”
The Patriots visit Neville Arena next Monday at 7 p.m. CST for the opening of the 2022-2023 Auburn men’s basketball season.
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