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Takeaways from Auburn basketball’s 117-56 exhibition win against Israel U-20 national team – AL.com

Takeaways from Auburn basketball’s 117-56 exhibition win against Israel U-20 national team - AL.com
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Playing together for the first time, more than 6,500 miles away from the confines of Neville Arena—and playing with the at-times slippery FIBA ball—the newest iteration of Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team didn’t miss a beat.

Auburn cruised to a 117-56 win against the Israel U-20 national team on Tuesday in the first of three scheduled exhibitions for the Tigers during their overseas “Birthright for College Basketball” tour. Auburn dominated a physically overmatched Israel U-20 team for 40 minutes, finishing with 72 points in the paint and shooting 51.7 percent for the game, with the spotlight firmly on a few of the team’s newcomers — as well as some familiar players stepping into new roles.

It’s difficult to glean too much from this exhibition, which was a lopsided affair played half a world away and more than three months before the actual 2022-23 campaign, but it still provided an early glimpse into this retooled roster after one of the most promising seasons in program history.

“We played hard today,” Pearl said during a postgame appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show. “This was our first time playing together, and the kids enjoyed playing with each other.”

Here are a few of AL.com’s observations from Auburn’s first foray into competition on this tour:

Fresh faces flourish in the frontcourt

Auburn has the unenviable task of replacing a pair of All-Americans and first-round NBA Draft picks in the frontcourt this season after Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler dominated together during their lone year on the Plains. The first look at two of the newcomers tapped to fill those voids provided some early returns, as five-star combo forward Yohan Traore and Morehead State transfer Johni Broome finished as Auburn’s two leading scorers on Tuesday.

Traore led the Tigers with 20 points while pulling down eight rebounds off the bench, and Broome added 17 points, nine boards and four blocks in his preseason debut while drawing the start alongside Jaylin Williams in the frontcourt.

Both had a chance to show off some of their arsenal against Israel’s U-20 team, too. Traore displayed a proclivity to draw contact down low and get to the free-throw line, with impressive shooting form for a big man, to boot. He was also active on the boards and had a couple of nice dunks, including one off a move on the baseline late in the first half, and a double-clutch reverse on a fastbreak that put an exclamation point on Tuesday’s result.

“You can see the talent, you can see the upside, you can see his ability to finish and obviously be able to play in space,” Pearl said of Traore. “I think the good thing about our situation is that we’ve got a deep team. That’s our strength. Our strength is the fact that we can put 12 guys out there. I thought our kids did a great sharing the minutes and being very unselfish.”

Broome, meanwhile, showed why Pearl and staff made him a priority in the transfer portal to help replace Kessler, last season’s national Defensive Player of the Year. The former OVC Defensive Player of the Year was active on the defensive end, at one point even coming up with a steal on the perimeter and then finishing with a nifty left-handed layup in transition.

Dylan Cardwell is eyeing that next step

Dylan Cardwell has never lacked for confidence—just look at how animated he is any time he steps on the court—but the 6-foot-11 junior looks more comfortable this offseason as he tries to step into an expanded role in the frontcourt.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein made note last month that he heard Cardwell was arguably the Tigers’ most improved player this summer—which Pearl at the time retweeted—and on Tuesday it was hard to argue otherwise. After averaging three points, three rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 11.6 minutes per game off the bench last season, Cardwell dropped a double-double against the Israel U-20 team. He finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks — securing his double-double by the third quarter of the blowout win.

“I just want to thank everybody else for missing shots, so I could get them,” Cardwell said. “That was the first double-double in my life, I think. It was fun. Hopefully, it’s not the last. I just hope I continue to keep us going. That’s my job to go out there and rebound, play defense and play with energy. I’m just thankful to God and BP for putting me in a position to get a double-double.”

Two of his blocks came on the perimeter, as he swatted away a couple of 3-point attempts by his undersized opponents. While he cleaned up near the basket, he also displayed some impressive touch, with a long jump-hook in the paint in the first half, as well as a well-placed lob from the top of the key to Broome for a finish inside.

Cardwell has been a sparkplug off the bench in his first two seasons, and after backing up Kessler last year, he’ll look for an expanded role this season while competing for time alongside Broome and Traore, who both have the flexibility to play the four or the five in Pearl’s system.

“Dylan Cardwell is the entire package,” Pearl said. “…I think with his size and the ability to move his feet and rebound – I would love to see him play in Israel one day if he doesn’t make the NBA.”

Allen Flanigan 2.0

The last year was a difficult one for Allen Flanigan. After partially tearing his Achilles in the preseason, he was sidelined for several months before making his return to Auburn’s lineup in December.

Even once he came back, though, he was a shell of the player who broke out for the Tigers in 2020-21. He averaged just 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 39.5 percent from the field and a mere 20.5 percent from beyond the arc, and he appeared to lack the same burst he had as a sophomore, when he averaged 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for Auburn.

An Achilles injury used to be the type of thing that ended a career, and while it’s still a major injury, medical advancements have gotten it to the point that it’s just a prolonged setback. While Flanigan was able to return from the injury post-surgery before the start of SEC play last season, he never truly returned to form. With a full offseason to get right—as well as an opportunity to go through the pre-draft process and compete in the G-League Elite Camp — Flanigan looked closer to his sophomore self during Tuesday’s game. He finished with 10 points, four assists and five rebounds, though he was just 4-of-10 shooting.

During a brief stretch in the second quarter, Flanigan scored six straight for Auburn, which drew some excited acknowledgement from Pearl on the sideline. He finished a tough drive to the basket through contact and completed the three-point play at the free-throw line, and he followed it up with a made 3-pointer on the next trip down the court. He also had a long step-back jumped in the second half from the wing. Most importantly, though, Flanigan looked smoother, more at ease and more explosive on the court than he did upon his return last season.

That’s something Pearl and his staff must be thrilled about.

Quick hits

— Auburn went with a starting lineup of Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper, Flanigan, Williams and Broome on Tuesday. Pearl said last week he will toy with different starting lineups during this trip, as well as experiment with different rotations—noting that not everyone may dress or play every game, but that he wants to try to get as many players as possible an extended look.

Tuesday’s lineup was particularly interesting with Green starting at point guard, since he was largely the Tigers’ sixth man last year while coming off the bench in 29 of 34 games. Whether Green emerges as the starting point guard by November remains to be seen, but he made an early case against Israel — he was in command of the offense, made some nice dishes (and should have had more assists than the five he was credited with) and finished with eight points.

— Broome and Traore weren’t the only newcomers to shine against Israel. Versatile freshman guard Chance Westry was impressive during his time on the court, which included some run at point guard. He finished with 13 points, three assists and three steals while shooting 5-of-8 from the field.

— K.D. Johnson had 13 points, five assists and three steals off the bench.

— Thirteen Auburn players saw the court against the Israel U-20 team, and all but one—walk-on Carter Sobera—scored at least once. Williams had nine points and five boards, while Jasper had seven and Chris Moore scored four points. Freshman Tre Donaldson and reserve big man Stretch Akingbola each finished with two points.

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.


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