No. 14 Auburn counting on C Wiley vs. Furman and beyond

NCAA Basketball
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Guard Samir Doughty is emphatically making a case that he is Auburn’s Most Valuable Player ahead of the 14th-ranked Tigers’ Thursday home game against Furman.

Doughty leads the team in scoring (19.3 points per game) and is igniting a defense that has held opponents to an average of 66.4 points a game while forcing them into 14.9 turnovers per game.

But the player who might hold the key to the Tigers’ chances of duplicating last season’s Final Four run could be center Austin Wiley.

It is still very early in the season, but the 6-foot-11 senior looks ready to assume the role of dominant big man he was projected to fill when he arrived at Auburn as a five-star recruit before injuries and eligibility issues took their toll.

Wiley is coming off a season-high 18 points in a win over Richmond in the Legends Classic final in New York. He recorded his fifth career double-double (14 points, career-high 13 rebounds) in a victory over New Mexico in the Legends Classic opener.

He is one of four players scoring in double figures for the Tigers with his 10.7 average, and he’s the leading rebounder at 8.6 per game. Since fouling out with just two points and one rebound in 10 minutes in Auburn’s 70-69 win at South Alabama, Wiley has averaged a double-double (13.8 points, 10 rebounds) in the Tigers’ double-digit wins over Cal State Northridge, Colgate, New Mexico and Richmond.

“He’s healthy for the first time in his career, and you can see how well he moves and how dominating he is,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “You just can’t cover him. All you can do is foul him.”

Wiley averaged 6.9 points, four rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while playing 13 minutes a game for the Tigers as a junior, but he was limited to 29 of Auburn’s 40 games because of foot and leg injuries.

He sat out the entire 2017-18 season with a leg injury and a wait for the NCAA to approve his eligibility after he was caught up in the FBI investigation that cost assistant coach Chuck Person his job.

Now down to 250 pounds, Wiley is making up for lost time. He figures to be a particular problem for a Furman team that is coming off a defeat at South Florida in its last outing.

The Paladins lost their leading scorer, forward Matt Rafferty (17.5 points per game) from last season’s 25-win team to graduation but return four other starters. Five-foot-11 guard Jordan Lyons (14.8 ppg) noses out 6-7 forward Clay Mounce (14.4 ppg) for the points lead. Their tallest inside player is Jonny Lawrence, a 6-10 freshman who has yet to play in a game.

Mounce recently earned Southern Conference Player of the Week honors after averaging 16 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 steals over a three-game span. He had 14 points and 12 rebounds in the loss to South Florida on Monday.

Auburn will be the Paladins’ second visit to a Southeastern Conference site this season. They lost 81-73 at Alabama on Nov. 19.

–Field Level Media

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