Xavier blew out a banged-up Auburn team last season. Now, the Musketeers find themselves trying to overcome injuries.
With Derrick Brown - among others - still hurting, the 14th-ranked Musketeers look to remain unbeaten when they face the Tigers on Wednesday night.
Last season’s matchup between Xavier and Auburn on Jan. 6 was the teams’ first in 35 years, and the Musketeers won 80-57.
It was the first of three straight losses for the Tigers, who had only seven scholarship players available due to injuries. Korvotney Barber, who is second on Auburn (3-3) this season with 13.2 points per contest, played only 10 games in 2007-08 due to a broken left hand he suffered versus Towson on Dec. 29.
Barber was leading the nation in field goal shooting before getting hurt, making 72.0 percent. The senior forward is now making 55.0 percent of his attempts while averaging a team-high 6.5 rebounds.
The Tigers never recovered from Barber’s loss, finishing 14-16 last season.
Xavier (6-0), meanwhile, has been finding ways to overcome its injury problems, getting off to its best start since opening 10-0 in 1996-97.
Brown is at far less than full strength, but he had a career-high 23 points in a 60-53 win over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.
In fact, Brown was the only Xavier player who shot consistently well. The junior forward sprained his right ankle a week before the season opener and hasn’t fully recovered.
Brown is known for his emphatic dunks, but has been reduced to layups for most of the first six games. He did manage one dunk Saturday, though, and finished 6-for-10 from the field while his teammates combined to shoot 31.5 percent (12-for-38).
“It felt good to actually dunk a ball,” said Brown, who leads the Musketeers with 12.7 points per game. “It’s been a while. I’m still fighting back from it. I take it one game at a time. It’s not 100 percent, but good enough.”
In the backcourt, Xavier is making do without impressive freshman Terrell Holloway, who suffered a stress fracture in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last week. On Saturday, starting guard Dante Jackson developed leg cramps and played only nine minutes in the second half.
At that point, B.J. Raymond - who coach Sean Miller called his 10th option at point guard before the season - had to bring the ball up the court. The 6-foot-6 Raymond, a senior who also has seen time at forward, has 82 assists in 108 career games.
“When B.J. Raymond has to play point guard in a really clutch game, you’re at the bottom of the barrel,” Miller said. “He’s never played point guard for a second in his career, and he did for 10 of the toughest minutes out there today.
“It’s all about surviving more than anything.”
Auburn is starting three guards, but that hasn’t helped its play on offense. The Tigers are averaging 68.8 points, second-fewest among SEC teams, and have failed to score more than 61 in three straight games.
Auburn shot 40.0 percent from he field in a 67-61 loss to Northern Iowa on Saturday in the final round of the Chicago Invitational Challenge, one day after shooting 34.5 percent in a 60-59 overtime defeat to Dayton.
“Our problem is offensively,” Tigers coach Jeff Lebo said. “We can’t manufacture any points.”
DeWayne Reed had 21 points to pace Auburn versus Northern Iowa after a 22-point effort in his previous game. He leads the Tigers with 13.8 points a contest, and has made 45.4 percent (10-for-22) from beyond the arc in his last three games.
The all-time series between Xavier and Auburn is tied 3-3.