Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl said it Thursday: Teams need their best players to routinely show up to win with any consistency the SEC.
But for one game? Anything is possible. And while All-SEC big man Johni Broome struggled early in the conference opener against Arkansas on Saturday — the 6-foot-10 center was held scoreless in the opening 20 minutes — junior college transfer Chad Baker-Mazara was there to pick up the slack to the tune of 14 first-half points.
Baker-Mazara was electric — at times too animated, earning himself a technical foul after draining Auburn’s first 3-pointer in the 83-51 demolition — in helping the Tigers to the biggest margin of victory over the Razorbacks in Bud Walton Arena history.
“I didn’t know that, but now you made it way better to be honest,” Baker-Mazara said after a reporter notified him of the historical significance of the win. “That’s incredible.”
What’s also incredible is the fact that the Tigers were able to do it with Broome being virtually non-existent for an entire half and five-star freshman Aden Holloway finishing with five points on 22.2% shooting. At halftime, Auburn’s starters not named Jaylin Williams had a combined three points and had missed all but one of their 10 attempted field goals.
Broome picked up the slack with 14 second-half points, but it was still a performance that left Pearl not totally satisfied.
“We’re going to go as far as Johni Broome takes us,” Pearl said. “But the great thing about maybe being on a great team — we don’t know if we’re a great team yet … — is that you’ve got other guys that you can count on.
“(But) he has got to start better than that.”
Broome did contribute a game-high eight rebounds to help the Tigers crush Arkansas on the glass, 46-32. Holloway and backup point guard Tre Donaldson helped in that department, too, corralling a combined 12 boards.
Holloway and Donaldson have been huge in propelling Auburn to the seven-game winning streak it currently finds itself in. The duo has combined to average 18.3 points, 7.9 assists, 5.6 rebounds and only 1.1 turnovers per game over the recent winning stretch.
Donaldson was the better option against the Razorbacks, and the minute split between the two was closer to even than usual, but that didn’t seem to matter to Holloway.
“Tre played great,” Pearl said. “But Aden also had five rebounds. Also played really solid defensively. Couldn’t get it going offensively, but you never saw it in his body language. And then when Tre played a little more because he played so well, Aden is out there cheering for him.
“That’s what great teams do.”
Issues such as Broome’s early struggles and Holloway’s shooting woes may be holding Pearl back labelling his team as great, but the Tigers certainly flashed signs of greatness while running Arkansas out of its own building.
That’s really all anyone can ask for one game into SEC play.
Richard Silva is the Auburn athletics beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rich_silva18.