Auburn goes into the weekend as one of four undefeated teams in the country following Thursday night’s 79-73 win over North Carolina State and will host Lehigh on Saturday afternoon in its last game before an eight-day break for the holidays.
It will be the third game over an eight-day span for the 12th-ranked Tigers (10-0), who have won their last three games (Furman in overtime, Saint Louis, NC State) by a total of 15 points.
Lehigh (3-7) doesn’t match up to the stretch the Tigers have just completed. The Mountain Hawks have lost their five games, three of them by double digits. The Hawks lost by 13 to Yale in their last game and to Saint Mary’s by 11 earlier in their losing streak.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl had not had an opportunity for much of an in-depth scouting report when he gave his assessment of Lehigh after this team’s win over the Wolfpack, but he noted that the Tigers still have a ways to go.
“Lehigh has played some good teams already — Virginia Tech (a 26-point beatdown), Saint Mary’s,” he said. “We’d like to see if we can build on this and go into the holidays undefeated.”
The Mountain Hawks have struggled with turnovers, averaging just over 15 a game, and have shot only 30.9 percent from 3-point range. Guard Jordan Cohen (13.9) and center James Karnik (12.5) are the only players averaging in double figures.
In the loss to Yale, the Mountain Hawks trailed by 16 points in the first half, but got to within two points in the second before Yale staged an 11-0 run late in the game to secure the 78-65 victory.
“The fact that we’re close is encouraging, if we can just make the corrections,” coach Brett Reed said. “We’ve identified the corrections and we’ve refined some of the corrections, but we haven’t gone all the way for the full 40 minutes to cut out some of the things that are hurting us.”
The Tigers might know the feeling. They shot only 44.6 percent from the field against the Wolfpack, including 6 of 19 from 3-point range, and made 17 turnovers against the Wolfpack, giving them 43 over their last three games. They have shot only 39.8 percent from the field the last two games combined.
“We missed a lot of shots at the rim,” Pearl said of the 44.6 percent effort against NC State. “They were contested shots, but we missed a lot of shots at the rim.”
But the Tigers showed some grit and toughness in coming up with 11 steals and outrebounding the Wolfpack 19-15 in the second half.
“Auburn basketball is not going to be as pretty this year,” said Pearl, whose Tigers made last season’s Final Four. “I don’t know whether it will be as successful or effective, but I do know that we have some really strong pieces.”