NCAA Basketball

No. 8 Auburn opens SEC slate at Mississippi St.

Senior forward Danjel Purifoy's return to form could not have come at a better time for No. 8 Auburn as it prepares to delve into Southeastern Conference play Saturday at Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss.

After scoring in double figures five times in the first seven games of the season, Purifoy went into a shooting slumping over the next four, going only 6-for-24 from the field overall and failing to reach double digits in averaging 5.0 points per outing over that stretch.

But he found the range his last outing, scoring 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting (3 of 4 on 3-pointers) as the Tigers (12-0) rolled to an 86-59 win over Lipscomb last Sunday.

Coach Bruce Pearl couldn't have been happier with Purifoy's play.

"Six offensive rebounds, mixing it up on the inside, was engaged defensively," Pearl said. "I think he's ready for the second half of the season."

Purifoy started 25 of 29 appearances as a freshman and averaged 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He didn't play in 2017-18 when he was suspended after his name popped up in the FBI investigation into college basketball. He had a single start in 28 appearances in 2018-19, but has started all 12 games for the Tigers this season.

"We've talked about the fact that we need him to be good," Pearl said after the rout of Lipscomb. "We won't win as many SEC games as we should unless he does what he did tonight. But I'm not asking him to do anything he's not capable of doing. He knows that. He absolutely knows it. He had a good rhythm to his game. I don't want him to be satisfied."

Purifoy expressed satisfaction in his play against Lipscomb.

"I felt like I came out and played a great game," he said. "My whole process on my mind was just being aggressive throughout the whole game."

Off to their best start since the 1998-99 team opened 17-0, the Tigers look to get a stern test from the Bulldogs (9-3), who have won three of their last four after a bounce-back 96-68 win over Kent State in Starkville on Monday followed their 58-52 loss to New Mexico State in Jackson, Miss., three days before Christmas.

"They're a great offensive rebounding team," Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said of the Bulldogs. "They've got great length and great size."

Mississippi State's 6-10 forward Reggie Perry is a handful. The sophomore is two rebounds short of averaging a double-double with his 15.4 points matching guard Tyson Carter for team scoring honors and his 9.8 rebound average leading the SEC.

He had 26 points and 17 rebounds against Kent State.

"It was a really important win because this would have been a really bad loss for us," Perry said. "It gives us a lot of confidence going into Auburn knowing that we have just won one and knowing what we have to do to win games. It was a really big win for us."

--Field Level Media

Updated January 4, 2020

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