Auburn − a team that went to the Final Four last season, won a program-record 30 games and is ranked 24th nationally in the preseason poll − got all it could handle Friday in the opening game of the Veterans Classic played at Alumni Hall.
Led by a handful of potential pro players, including two in the running for the Naismith Award, Auburn suits up with their shoulders broad and running shoes on. They play hard and live large on the hard-court.
The Tigers used a fast start in both halves to put Davidson down by double digits, winning 76-66.
The Tigers were led by the three-thronged backcourt of Danjel Purifoy (14 points), Samir Doughty (11 points) and J’Von McCormick (10 points) on the outside and the inside play of the lone non-senior starter, Austin Wiley, who had five points and 10 rebounds. Anfrenn McLemore also came off the bench to score 12 points.
“I was telling CBS before the game that with J‘Von, Samir and Isaac (Okoro), we had the makings for a great backcourt and they showed that tonight,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. “And I was proud of the defense we played tonight.”
Though a notch below its Southeastern Conference foe, Davidson gives little away, rebounds well and lives by the three-point shot. Despite being the underdog in this game and never leading, the school that produced NBA great Stephen Curry gave Charles Barkley’s alma mater all it could handle.
The Wildcats are led by legendary head coach Bob McKillop, who has 578 career victories.
“This will be the measuring stick for games here on out,” said McKillop, in his 31st season at Davidson. “They made it very difficult to pass the ball and that made us dribble more, which led to more turnovers."
Davidson wound up shooting just 33 percent from the floor, made just 10 of 28 beyond the arch and had 16 turnovers.
“Against a team like Auburn, you can make only (so many errors) and we made too many,” added McKillop. “Still, I am proud of the effort put forth by our guys.”
Luke Frampton and Carter Collins led the team with 18 points and Mike Jones added 14 points.
What a treat this game was for the basketball fans who came early for the best game of the night, even if it did not include host Navy.
Holding just a 37-35 halftime lead after leading by as much as 13 points in the first half, the Tigers rebuilt their lead to double-figures (46-36) before the first second-half timeout.
From there, the Wildcats time and again fought off Davidson advances.
Davidson’s final run brought it to within 66-61 with 3:44 only to have Auburn run off five in a row for another double-digit lead.
With the score 71-61, Davidson hit a three. A Wildcat foul sent J’Von McCormick to the line for a single. Collins laid in a bucket and Davidson was back in the chase at 72-66 with 1:07 to go.
Going into the spread, McLemore was fed for an easy basket. After a Davidson miss, Doughty sank a pair of free throws making it 76-66. Auburn stole the ball with 19.4 seconds to play, finally putting an end to the frenetic play of the two squads.
McKillop and Pearl were facing each other for the first time ever despite a combined 1,230 NCAA Division I wins and a combined 55 seasons.
When asked how it felt for Auburn to be the featured team in the Veterans Classic, Pearl said host Navy held that distinction.
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“To hear you say that we were the featured team, I have to smile because we’ve come a long way for you to say that,” said Pearl. “It was an honor to come here. We should be standing in line to come to this tournament and give our kids this kind of experience.”