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No. 13 Auburn leaning on defense as Saint Louis visits

Despite its 6-0 start, No. 13 Auburn remains a work in progress on offense.

The Tigers will continue to lean on their defense Sunday when they host high-scoring Saint Louis (5-1).

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Auburn coach Bruce Pearl was pleased with his team’s defensive effort during Wednesday’s 43-42 win against an experienced Northwestern squad to claim the Cancun Challenge championship in Mexico.

“To hold Northwestern to 42 points tells you about our effort and our energy, and our defense,” Pearl said. “That’s got to carry us.”

Sooner or later, Pearl’s team will need to be more consistent on the offensive end.

The Tigers shot 56.4 percent from the field (31 of 55), including 47.1 percent from behind the arc (8 of 17), in a dominating 85-64 win over Bradley in the opening round of the Cancun Challenge.

In the hard-fought victory over the Wildcats the following night, Auburn was held to 26 percent shooting from the floor (13 of 50), including 23.8 percent from downtown (5 of 21).

“Our offensive execution leaves a lot to be desired,” Pearl said. “But we showed heart, we showed character, we showed toughness, and we gutted this one out.”

Jaylin Williams has picked up his level of play and is averaging 12.0 points in his last three outings after averaging 4.6 in his first three outings. The rangy Williams is a versatile player who can deliver dimes (2.3 assists per game) and rebounds (5.5 rebounds per game) on a consistent basis.

Wendell Green Jr. is Auburn’s top scorer (12.0 ppg) and assist man (4.2 per game), but he’s also a good rebounder despite his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame. In the win over the Wildcats, Green grabbed the game-clinching board with a second on the clock to up his career-high total to 10.

Johni Broome (10.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks) and Chris Moore (5.8 points, 3.3 rebounds) have been steady as starters, but the play of reserves K.D. Johnson (9.8 points), Allen Flanigan (8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds) and rim-protector Dylan Cardwell (5.3 rebounds, 3.2 blocks) has helped Auburn stay undefeated. The Tigers rank 22nd nationally in points off the bench (34.4).

Saint Louis’ only loss of the season came against an undefeated Maryland team in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off on Nov. 19 in Uncasville, Conn.

Gibson Jimerson (14.7 ppg) is the top scorer and an excellent shooter (46.7 percent from 3-point range), but Yuri Collins is arguably the Billikens’ most important player.

In addition to his team-high 34.5 minutes per game, Collins is averaging 12.8 points and is the nation’s leader in assists with 10.7 per game.

“We’ve given him a lot of responsibility,” Saint Louis head coach Travis Ford said. “He wants a lot of responsibility. He deserves it. He needs it.”

Javonte Perkins (13.7 points), Javon Pickett (10.0 points, 7.8 rebounds) and Francis Okoro (8.8 points, 9.7 rebounds) are other standouts for Saint Louis.

–Field Level Media

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