As their head coach Bruce Pearl serves the second of a two-game suspension imposed by the NCAA on Friday, the No. 13 Auburn Tigers are set to host the North Alabama Lions on Tuesday night.
The Tigers (8-1) have won five in a row and are coming off a 99-68 rout of Nebraska at the Holiday Hoopsgiving tournament in Atlanta.
Pearl’s suspension stemmed from the NCAA’s decision to place Auburn on four years of probation for unethical conduct involving former associate head coach Chuck Person. Pearl was sanctioned for failing to monitor Person and adequately promote compliance during that time.
Assistant coach Wes Flanigan coached in his stead and Pearl’s son, assistant coach Steven Pearl, will coach against North Alabama (6-3).
Auburn had no trouble against the Cornhuskers without Bruce Pearl as its defense contributed to 20 turnovers that led to 30 points. Jabari Smith led Auburn with 21 points while Wendell Green Jr. had 19 points, six rebounds and six assists off the bench.
“We’ll move forward, press forward with one more game without (Pearl), but can’t wait to get him back,” Flanigan said. “I think it was just a sigh of relief that finally we had a decision.”
Walker Kessler and Zep Jasper led the defensive effort with five steals each while Devan Cambridge had 14 points and K.D. Johnson added 12 points.
Green told reporters after the game that once they heard about the NCAA’s ruling it was actually a motivator instead of a detractor.
“Once we heard the good news it made us more excited to play today,” Green said.
The Tigers have won five consecutive games with Smith (17.3 points per game), Johnson (15.1 points per game) and Green (11.2 points per game) leading the charge. Smith (7.0 rebounds per game) and Kessler (6.9) have proven to be a formidable force inside.
North Alabama enters the game on a five-game winning streak following a 56-45 win over Alabama A&M. The Lions, who are in their fourth season as a Division-I program, prevailed despite a poor shooting performance both from inside and beyond the 3-point line. North Alabama shot 27.1 percent (16 for 59) from the field and made only 5 of 26 shots from 3-point range.
Daniel Ortiz led the Lions with 12 points off the bench, while Damian Forrest totaled eight points and eight rebounds as North Alabama won its fifth consecutive game. Ortiz leads the Lions in scoring with 11.7 points per game and is shooting 46.8 percent from the field including 56.3 percent from 3-point range.
The Lions, who are coming off a 13-11 season and a runner-up finish in the Atlantic Sun Conference, already have a loss to an SEC opponent this season, having dropped their season opener at Mississippi State.
Challenging themselves against a ranked opponent like Auburn is something coach Tony Pujol said at the start of the season he believes can help his program take a big step forward.
“The opportunity to challenge our student-athletes against some of the top Power 5 programs in the country has become a staple of our program,” Pujol said.
–Field Level Media