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Bruce Pearl defends his team after two road losses: 'I’m pleased with the position that we're in' (plus more on shooting woes, handling adversity)

Justin Hokansonby:Justin Hokanson01/30/24


AUBURN — Following Auburn’s two-game losing streak at Alabama and Mississippi State last week, Bruce Pearl felt the need to take to X (formerly Twitter) and defend his team’s performances. It’s not something he normally does, but this felt different.

He said the team, now 16-4 overall and 5-2 in SEC play, would continue to work hard and they lost to two good teams on the road.

On Tuesday, Pearl referenced his post and elaborated. Because Pearl is speaking to the Auburn fans, I think it’s important you read everything he said during his press conference in its entirety.

“I don’t often put out tweets about our season because our season speaks for itself. We have press conferences all the time and I have a radio show, TV show, there’s plenty of time to communicate with our fans. I’m going to communicate with them again about some of the noise about losing a couple of games on the road. I think it’s important to me. We’re going to lose some more games. We’re going to lose several more games,” Pearl said.


“We have to go to Ole Miss, they are 12-0 at home. We’re playing Vanderbilt team that beat us in the second half, beat Alabama in a half, was up five against Tennessee, they are a good team. We have to play South Carolina and they are 17-3. We have to play a 10th-ranked Kentucky team. We go to Florida, they are 9-1 at home. We’re going to play number five-ranked Tennessee and they are 10-0 at home. We have to go play 11-1 Georgia and they have to come here. We have to play at Missouri. We have to play that Mississippi State team again, we have to play Alabama again.

“This team, we’re better than what people thought, but we’re not as good as what people think. This team was picked sixth in the league and I told you from the jump that was fair. We only had one player that was on anybody’s preseason anything, that was Johni Broome. Even to this point right now, I’m really pleased with where we are. I’m pleased with the position we’re in. That said, I listed off a bunch of games that every one will be like a NCAA Tournament game. Most of the teams listed were picked ahead of us. It’s going to be a daunting challenge. If we continue to play defense, we have to do a better job of rebounding and making shots, then we have a chance to continue to win against some of these opponents, have a pretty good year and make the NCAA Tournament. None of that is decided yet.

“I do think there was too much negativity and I want to protect my players from that, in the sense that this team was not supposed to be in the position we’re in this year. They’ve put themselves in that position. We don’t know how that’s going to finish because if we don’t improve in those areas, it’s going to be an OK, good year. We have to improve in those areas. But to this point right now, I’m going to defend my team and say that they worked hard to be in the position they are in.

“I am grateful for the passion and intensity of our fans and the Auburn family, beyond grateful, couldn’t even begin to express it. These aren’t complaints, these are just realities.”

Auburn dropped to No. 16 in the AP poll, but remains ranked highly by the computers, including No. 3 by T-Rank, No. 7 in KenPom and No. 9 in the NET.

Here’s more from Pearl heading into the game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night at 8 pm CT:

Players like Johni Broome, Jaylin Williams, Chris Moore, KD Johnson, Dylan Cardwell, Tre Donaldson and Lior Berman have been through the SEC grind, but Aden Holloway, Denver Jones, Chad Baker-Mazara and Chaney Johnson haven’t. Seven games in with 12 remaining, Pearl thinks his team overall is in a good place, despite some recent setbacks.

“I thought they handled it OK. I thought Johni Broome really, really stepped up. Our team did a great job of guarding Tolu Smith, but it wouldn’t have happened without Johni. Dylan got in ridiculous foul trouble. His fouls were, unbelievable. It forced Johni to play so many minutes and for Tolu to only have nine points, he won’t have less than double figures ever. Johni’s offense has been ahead of his defense, but he demonstrated he can. He stepped his game up,” said Pearl.

“We need others to step up. Jaylin Williams has been incredible, an incredible run. He didn’t play as well as he did these last two games on the road. He’s going to try and respond to that. His playing better is pretty important to us. He’s one of our go-to guys. I think overall, they are competitive, they want to win. If you see us yelling at each other on the bench, arguing, whatever, we’re just trying to win.”

Is it better this team is facing real adversity at the end of January versus heading into March? Pearl believes everyone is facing or will face adversity, especially in the SEC. There’s no avoiding it and there will be more to come.

“I think it happens to everybody at some point in the league. Once you get into league play, and there are going to be a lot of 9-9’s in this league that make the NCAA Tournament. There could be some 8-10’s that make the tournament out of this league. How you respond to adversity is important,” he said.

“Did the Alabama loss have a hangover? How about Mississippi State is just a great defensive team and they did a good job of guarding us. We did a good job of guarding Alabama for the most part, but we struggled to score. We struggled to rebound in both games.”

The two hot topics have been Auburn’s struggles to shoot and their inability to rebound consistently. The Tigers’ road three-point shooting totals this season are 29-119, and 14-76 in three losses at App State, Alabama and Mississippi State. And in seven SEC games, Auburn has been out-rebounded five times, including allowing 30 offensive rebounds in the last two losses.

“It’s interesting, we talked about defensive rebounding all summer, all fall, I measure my team against what the best teams are. We’ve been out-rebounded (five) of seven SEC games we’ve played. We’ve been out-rebounded. That has to be a factor for us,” Pearl said.

And on shot selection versus simply making open shots, “it’s a little bit of both. Your teammates are driving the lane, they know what your percentage is. They aren’t being selfish, they are just wondering if that’s the right pass. We have to make the right pass regardless of whether that’s a shooter. That shooter has to take that shot, make that shot, or pass it.”

Lastly, I asked Pearl about Holloway’s struggles shooting from deep. The freshman is shooting 26 percent in conference games and has hit only two of his last 12 three-point shot attempts. Pearl isn’t concerned, but does hope some of Holloway’s decent looks start falling soon.

“So much of it is about outside expectations, and you want your players to have high expectations for themselves. Aden’s expectations are through the roof coming in as a McDonald’s All-American freshman point guard. But if you look at the freshman in the country, he’s one of the leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio in the country of all of them, just any player that plays as much as he does. That’s strong,” he said.

“He hasn’t shot like he’s shot in his career. He has to make the open ones and he’s getting some open ones. When he does, it makes us a lot better. I think it’s going in every time he releases it. I think it’s less about shot selection and just about making shots. For the most part, being honest and open with him, continue to put him in position to be successful. He’s probably surprised at the jump in the level, no matter how much you tell him.”

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