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AU 34-5 last 3 yrs in non conf. Best in SEC

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Ben Wolk •

AUBURN — Bruce Pearl's message to the team was clear before Auburn's last non-conference game of the season against North Florida.

"Coach was preaching to us that if we won this one we were going to have the best non-conference record [in the SEC] for the last three years," Anfernee McLemore said after the game against the Ospreys. "So he said that to us before the game that we needed to put a lot of effort into this one, so we could make a little bit of history tonight."

The end result was never in doubt.

Auburn cruised to a 46-point win to move to 11-2 on the season, a perfect 8-0 in Auburn Arena. To Bruce Pearl, it meant less as it singularly pertains to the 2018-19. Pearl found the 95-49 victory against North Florida to be a more telling indication of a program-wide shift in basketball culture.

The win over the Ospreys moved Auburn's non-conference record the last three seasons to 34-5. That tops the Southeastern Conference. It also marks a major change from the previous four seasons when the Tigers averaged 5 non-conference losses per season in the last two years of Tony Barbee and the first two years of Pearl.

"It matters for a lot of reasons. It talks about the fact that there were a lot of guys that came in and helped kinda change the culture a little bit and help the program improve," Pearl said. "But one of the things about coming to Auburn was I wanted Auburn to try to be a competitive program. We're still work on that. That's a work in progress but you can reflect a bit on the last three years because the non-conference record now."

What's more: Auburn controlled the games it should've controlled.

It's losses? Understandable.

Those five non-conference losses the last three seasons came against Duke, N.C. State, Purdue, Temple and Boston College. All five of extensive basketball history. Pearl noted Saturday night Auburn was the underdogs against the first four on that list. He conceded after the press conference Boston College was one Auburn probably should've won.

But otherwise, the Tigers took care of business in the games they were supposed to. And they even pulled out some toss-ups during the three-year span against the likes of Oklahoma, UConn, Xavier, Arizona, Dayton and TCU.

"Well, we beat every team we should've beaten. A couple of times as underdogs, we didn't get it done. From a standpoint of just the result, the record, look, I will tell you this, if you look at 34-5, and I don't have the five losses — obviously it was Duke and it was NC State, it was Purdue when they had a Sweet 16 or an Elite Eight team, it was Temple and whoever else it might have been — to not be upset, I think, once, it speaks volumes of the preparation, of the focus," Pearl said. "You're supposed to beat the people you can beat, and you're supposed to have the chance to beat the people you're not supposed to beat. We've done both."

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