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GwillMac6

Pearl relying less on bench players

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Posted on 22 mins, , User Since 110 months ago, User Post Count: 0

AUBURN, Alabama — Devan Cambridge provided Auburn something it has long searched for on its bench with an explosive performance Wednesday against South Carolina.

The career-high 26 points, including six 3-pointers, paced the Tigers and provided them a much-needed and not-often-seen boost off the bench in the 80-67 victory at Auburn Arena.

In an era where one-and-done players can lift a team, but more often than not veterans are needed to lead programs to championships, bench players have proven invaluable during late-season runs. Just look at Auburn during its Final Four run, when J’Von McCormick stepped in for foul-ridden point guard Jared Harper in the SEC and NCAA tournaments last season. You could also point to forwards Danjel Purifoy and Horace Spencer, who rotated against Kentucky in the Elite Eight and against Virginia in the Final Four after first-round prospect Chuma Okeke crumbled to the floor with a knee injury in the Sweet 16.

As much as Auburn fans and analysts credited the 3-point shooting of Bryce Brown and Harper for the Tigers’ historic run last season, the bench players carved out roles and pushed the Tigers over the top.

This season? Well, those role players are now starters: McCormick is at point guard and Purifoy is a wing man. The bench is comprised mostly of newcomers, including three freshmen and senior forwards Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore.

The results have been, well, somewhat predictable: the No. 16 Tigers (16-2, 4-2 SEC) have relied more on their senior-laden lineup than ever before. Auburn’s bench comprises only 29.3 percent of the playing time in games, which is the lowest average in the Bruce Pearl era, according to KenPom.com. Scoring off the bench has provided 38.8 percent of the Tigers' offense.

“I wasn’t aware it was the lowest percentage,” Pearl said. “It doesn’t surprise me because we have so many seniors that are starting.”

McLemore is the lone upperclassmen playing off the bench. “When Anfernee is in the game we don’t drop off, we just get different,” Pearl said. The senior is Auburn’s second-leading player off the bench averaging 19.6 minutes in reserve of center Austin Wiley and Purifoy at forward.

Auburn’s other three players off the bench are all freshmen: guards Jamal Johnson and Cambridge, and forward Allen Flanigan. Freshman Isaac Okoro averages 12.6 points and 4.3 rebounds and is likely a first-round prospect in the upcoming NBA Draft at forward. He earned a starting job early in the season and hasn’t dropped off the floor since. Senior guard Samir Doughty splits time at both guard spots, too.

“Samir and Isaac are two of the best defensive guards in our league and maybe in the country,” Pearl said. “Strong praise, a lot of weight on their shoulders, they’re going against a couple of tremendous offensive guards in (Iowa State’s Tyrese) Haliburton and this group. So, I think that’s the reason, because those guys are so much farther ahead of them defensively: Devan, Allen, Jamal.”

Auburn hosts Iowa State (9-9) in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. CT on ESPNU. The Tigers have yet to lose a home game after starting the season 15-0, but scoring and defense have hit ruts in recent weeks.

Defensive lulls have hurt the Tigers when bench players enter the game this season. Flanigan, who has played 27 percent of the total minutes available at small forward over the last five games, was yanked with less than 15 minutes remaining against South Carolina after two blown defensive assignments. South Carolina cut a sizable Auburn lead to one point, but after Flanigan was yanked to the bench the Tigers rebuilt a lead as large as 19 before he was placed on the floor again to give Okoro a breather.

Meanwhile, Cambridge, who has played only 19 percent of the minutes available at the position over the last five games, stayed on the floor for 21 minutes during his career night. It was the first time he cracked nine minutes against an SEC opponent.

“Offensively, Allen is going to be a really good player because he can get it downhill, he can make shots, and is a physical defender,” Pearl said. “Devan can obviously show you he can rise up and make shots and he’s got the great jumping ability. Jamal (Johnson) is a good shooter.

“If those guys can come off the bench and be better defensively, make shots, they’ll play more and when they do, we’re going to be better.”

Pearl’s message, however, is not that simple. One big performance does not result in more playing time, so don’t expect Cambridge to begin eclipsing more than 15 minutes per game (he averages 11 minutes) because of a career night against the Gamecocks.

“I believe playing time and roles are earned over a long period of time and I don’t like when either my starters or the guys that know that they’re playing feel like they have to play well to play in a short period of time,” Pearl said. “I want to judge them over a long period.”

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I think he gave a few of our guys a good amount of chance and got burnt too often. Tyrell Jones was unplayable, Jamal has probably hit his happy medium for minutes. I just dont think babatunde and jaylin are showing him whatever he wants to see in practice. 

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6 hours ago, Dual-Threat Rigby said:

I think he gave a few of our guys a good amount of chance and got burnt too often. Tyrell Jones was unplayable, Jamal has probably hit his happy medium for minutes. I just dont think babatunde and jaylin are showing him whatever he wants to see in practice. 

Yep....like in football, coaches make playing time decisions by what they see in practice.  I guess DC earned some extra playing time today based on his last game....but he was back to playing like he had earlier in the year....and eventually ended up scoreless and on the bench.   I recall a comment from last week by BP....if a guy does not play defense, he's not gonna play..    That's likely what we were seeing today. 

On the other hand, the players in the game for the last five minutes were downright scary as they failed to work the clock and took inadvisable shots and let the lead disappear.   

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26 minutes ago, AU64 said:

Yep....like in football, coaches make playing time decisions by what they see in practice.  I guess DC earned some extra playing time today based on his last game....but he was back to playing like he had earlier in the year....and eventually ended up scoreless and on the bench.   I recall a comment from last week by BP....if a guy does not play defense, he's not gonna play..    That's likely what we were seeing today. 

On the other hand, the players in the game for the last five minutes were downright scary as they failed to work the clock and took inadvisable shots and let the lead disappear.   

I think that's what we're seeing alot of at this point. Theres a ton of guys with above average to good to maybe even great defensive instincts, but unfortunately, many of them have piss poor offensive instincts. Id say thats another big difference between this team and last, the guy with the worst offensive instincts in the rotation was maybe...Spencer? You can say DP at one point, but he got way more comfortable over time. Same for Jvon. and Horace didnt have esp bad instincts, he just looked uncomfortable when he was asked to do things he didnt usually do. 

Some of our key guys on this team look uncomfortable doing things they're supposed to do, like DP when it comes to knowing when to shoot. I guess BP's premise is that you can either easier mask or get away with poor O IQ far easier than on the other end.

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