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No. 15 Auburn sees physical contest awaiting at WVU

Field Level Media
27 Jan 2023, 13:40 GMT+10

No. 15 Auburn will aim to bounce back from its largest setback of the season when it visits West Virginia on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at Morgantown, W.Va.

The Tigers (16-4) had a 28-game home unbeaten streak end when they fell 79-63 to Texas AM on Wednesday.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl wants to avoid a second consecutive loss, but the Mountaineers (12-8) are better than their record in his eyes.

"You look at West Virginia and you look at Texas AM and you see a lot of similarities -- tough, physical, hard-nosed," Pearl said.

The Tigers dug a 15-point halftime deficit against the Aggies and couldn't recover. Meanwhile, West Virginia produced a solid 76-61 road victory over Texas Tech on Wednesday.

Pearl knows the Mountaineers will be a tough foe with Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins known as a master of preparation.

"Interestingly this year, his team's actually better offensively than it maybe even is defensively," Pearl said of Huggins, who typically has strong defensive clubs. "They turn you over 15 times a game, great ball pressure, make it harder for you to run your offense."

Big man Johni Broome (16 points, seven rebounds, seven blocked shots) and Wendell Green Jr. (16 points) were the lone Auburn players to reach double digits against Texas AM.

The Tigers shot just 3 of 16 (18.8 percent) from 3-point range and committed 13 turnovers. Auburn is making just 29.4 percent of its 3-point attempts.

Green leads the Tigers in scoring (13.9 points per game) and assists (4.3), while Broome (13.3 ppg) leads in rebounding (8.5) and blocked shots (2.7). Jaylin Williams (10.7) also is scoring in double digits.

West Virginia has won two of its past three games after enduring a five-game slide.

During the skid, the Mountaineers lost by seven or fewer points four times. They ended the slide with a 74-65 home win over then-No. 14 TCU on Jan. 18 and lost 69-61 at then-No. 7 Texas three days later before defeating the Red Raiders despite committing 19 turnovers.

"That was a great team win," Huggins said afterward. "We've given away so many games this year, and we tried (Wednesday). You can't turn it over that many times, so many times, and really just dumb turnovers. They didn't force us into those turnovers -- we did it ourselves."

West Virginia held a commanding 44-27 rebounding advantage and was 28 of 35 from the free-throw line while Texas Tech made 16 of 23 attempts. The Mountaineers had a 50-15 edge in bench points.

Backups Joe Toussaint (career-high 22 points), Seth Wilson (career bests of 15 points and five 3-pointers) and James Okonkwo (career-high 10 rebounds) all had solid outings. Erik Stevenson (16 points, career-best 10 rebounds) was the lone starter to reach double digits, but he shot just 3-for-12.

"Our starters just didn't have any pop to them," Huggins said. "They're the guys who have played the majority of the minutes and they were dragging a little bit, so I thought we'd go with some young guys and guys who have a little bit more pop to them."

Stevenson (13.1 points per game) leads the Mountaineers in scoring, followed by Tre Mitchell (12.6), Toussaint (10.6) and Kedrian Johnson (10.4).

The schools have split the previous four meetings. West Virginia won the most recent matchup 88-59 on Dec. 5, 2007.

--Field Level Media

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