Senior Samir Doughty led Auburn with 20 points, freshman Isaac Okoro scored 12 points in his collegiate debut, and the new-look Auburn men’s basketball team topped Georgia Southern 83-74 on Tuesday night to open its season.
Seniors Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley added 13 points each, with Wiley nearing a double-double with nine rebounds.
No. 24 Auburn went back and forth with the visiting contenders for the Sun Belt Conference before the Tigers pulled away late. Purifoy’s 3-pointer gave Auburn its new largest lead at 13 with just under 12 minutes to play, at 61-48.
Doughty made five free throws in the last 1:09 to ice it.
“We didn’t expect to come in here and blow these guys out,” Doughty said after the win. Auburn trailed for much of the first half, against the team projected to compete for the Sun Belt title. “We knew that they’re an older team, so we knew it was going to be a dogfight. We talked about that this whole week.
“I think if we cut the turnovers down, we’ll be great.”
Auburn had 21 of those, with 13 coming in the first half as the Tigers shook off jitters in Auburn Arena and took their first steps on the floor together in the regular season. Auburn blasted Division II’s Eckerd 97-53 in an exhibition last Friday, but Tuesday brought in competition at a new level.
Auburn led 41-37 at the break, charging back after trailing for much of the first half. Conference coaches pegged Georgia Southern as the Sun Belt’s third-best team this preseason.
Devan Cambridge hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Auburn in the final two minutes of the first half to flip a two-point deficit into a four-point advantage for Auburn going into the locker room.
Cambridge is one of the team newcomers like Okoro mixing with Auburn’s five scholarship seniors to make up Auburn’s new-look rotation.
“We’ve just got to keep growing, keep learning,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “This team is going to get better fast.”
Auburn travels to play Davidson on Friday on CBS in Annapolis, Md., then will play at South Alabama before the team’s return to Auburn Arena on Nov. 15.
After Auburn built a double-digit lead early in the second half, Georgia Southern cut that advantage down to five at points down the stretch, before Auburn put the game away in the final minutes.
It was a 5-point game at 65-60 with just less than six minutes left before Auburn went on a 7-1 run in the ensuing sequence to make it 72-61 with 4:19 left.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we got the win,” Wiley said. “We’ve got to do better at not turning the ball over, and just rebounding the ball better.
“We’re going to get back at it tomorrow at practice, so we’ll be alright.”
Those 21 turnovers marked the most for Auburn since its December loss at NC State last season — but Auburn is 1-0.
Auburn played 10 players, with Okoro starting on the wing alongside four seniors, and fellow freshmen Wes Flanigan and Tyrell Jones joining Cambridge and transfer Jamal Johnson to rotate in with Purifoy, Wiley, Doughty, Anfernee McLemore and J’Von McCormick.