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AUBURN — In the much-anticipated season opener, in what is likely among the most anticipated seasons in recent memory, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl’s No. 15 Tigers (1-0) defeated George Mason 70-52. The Patriots (0-1) put up a good fight, but Auburn’s size and tenacity on the defensive end decided the matchup.
Auburn’s issues beyond the arc and at the charity stripe continued as the team managed just 62% (18-29) from the free throw line and an abysmal 16% (4-25) from beyond the three-point line.
While the same issues were evident last year, Auburn was able to rely on a combo of bigs and guards attacking the basket at will.
That is where the majority of Auburn’s points came from tonight, but they still managed 43.4% from inside the arc and 34% overall.
“I'm not frustrated. I told our guys,” said Pearl. “'When we start making those shots, we've got a chance to be pretty good. We just haven't yet.”
Point guard Wendell Green Jr. led the way with 16 while fellow guard K.D. Johnson and center Johni Broome each had 12, with Johnson shooting 4-13 from the field, including 2-of-9 from three-point land.
The defense was the story once again for Auburn and could be what ultimately decides a number of key matchups down the stretch.
The size of centers Johni Broome and Dylan Cardwell was too much for George Mason’s smaller lineup, combining for nine of the 10 blocks for Auburn.
“And Johni's still a little banged up with his ankle. He can play faster and quicker,” Pearl said. “And this was the best Dylan has played. He had pop, he was powerful.”
Broome has been bothered by an ankle injury for a few weeks.
On the glass was the same story as the Pearl-led team, much like last year’s group, dominated in the rebounding category to the tune of 48 total rebounds to just 37, including 22-to-10 on the offensive glass.
Not to be outdone, Auburn’s guards showed up as well, contributing to 14 steals and 19 total turnovers, which turned into 21 points for the Tigers.
“To turn them over 19 times, with only nine assists, that's a veteran team. Our defense was really good,” Pearl said following the game.
George Mason could not get much going offensively, with only one scorer in double figures, guard Ronald Polite III with 10, and second-leading scorer and fellow guard Victor Bailey Jr. shooting 4-of-17, but they fought hard against an Auburn offense that could not get much going.
That and the depth of Auburn, which has been touted throughout the offseason, played a factor again as Auburn just wore down the opposition before the final whistle.
“Most teams don't have that. They get tired early, and that's what George Mason did,” said K.D. Johnson. “We got on them early and pushed the pace.”
Despite the tough night, the Tigers were met with a warm reception inside the recently named Neville Arena, and for the players on this team that had not experienced it before, they welcomed the support and noise from the rabid Jungle.
“It was amazing. The Jungle was rocking like always,” said Broome. “And it was great to have guys on my team bringing the energy.”
That energy will once again be put to the test as South Florida (0-1) steps inside Neville Arena next Friday, with tipoff set for 7 p.m. CST and once again on ESPN+.
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