By R.L. Bynum
Centers Garrison Brooks, Walker Miller and Walker Kessler all scored in double figures in league victories over the weekend and Brandon Huffman just missed a double-double in a victory.
Kessler collected 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocks as No. 2 Auburn topped No. 12 Kentucky 80–71 Saturday at home and made the case to be ranked No. 1. Monday, the Tigers overtook Gonzaga in the AP Top 25 and are No. 1 for the first time in school history.
Kessler, who is second in the country in blocks per game at 4.1, talked to AL.com and explained what went into his decision to transfer. He said that being near his family was a big factor.
“Being close to home has been unbelievable because my family and then we also have a lake house near Lake Martin, which is an hour away from Auburn; it has been the perfect location for me,” Kessler said in the story.
Auburn assistant coach Steven Pearl said that the Tigers’ staff were surprised when Kessler committed to Carolina out of high school.
“We were under the impression that he was visiting North Carolina as a courtesy. He goes to North Carolina and falls in love with it,” Pearl told AL.com. “He called us on a Sunday night and told us he was going to North Carolina. We were heartbroken. We had developed a good relationship with him and his family. It was tough for us to swallow.”
Pearl’s reworked sales pitch made the case that he and freshman big man Jabari Smith could form the best big-man duo in the country.
“Jabari asked if he could join a Zoom himself when we were recruiting Walker,” Pearl said.
Kessler is averaging 10.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game with 78 blocks. The 6–10 Smith is averaging 15.7 points and 6.3 rebounds with 20 blocks.
A big reason that Mississippi State (13–5, 4–2 SEC) rebounded from a loss last week at Florida with a 78–60 home win Saturday over Ole Miss was that Brooks was a bigger part of the Bulldogs’ game plan.
Brooks, sporting a beard, made all of his shots in their 80–72 loss to the Gators, but he only took three and scored seven. Against the Rebels, Brooks was 6 of 11 from the floor and scored 17 points, his best scoring effort in an SEC game.
It will be tougher for Brooks inside, at least in the near future, because big man Tolu Smith suffered a partially dislocated left knee cap in the game.
Miller scored 11 points in Monmouth’s 61–58 Thursday win at Fairfield and a team-high 19 in a 78–62 Sunday home victory over Manhattan.
Coach King Rice’s Hawks (12–6, 4–3 MAAC) have won back-to-back games after losing four in a row.
“Today, I think we just had more energy,” Rice said. “With this group, we have guys that can score at every position and we were able to get it done.”
Brandon Huffman collected nine points and nine rebounds as Jacksonville State earned a 79–71 home win over Florida Gulf Coast to extend the Gamecocks’ win streak to seven.
Jacksonville State (12–6, 5–0 ASUN) is one victory shy of matching the program’s best Division I conference start of 6–0 in 2018–19 in the Ohio Valley Conference. The win streak is the longest since the Gamecocks won eight in a row in the 2018–19 season.
Seventh Woods came off the bench and was scoreless in 16 minutes with three rebounds, five assists and five turnovers in Morgan State’s 91–82 home loss Saturday to Howard. The Bears (6–9, 1–2 MEAC) take a two-game losing streak into Monday’s 7 p.m. game at Norfolk State (ESPNU).
Jeremiah Francis was scoreless in a minute of action in New Mexico’s 93–91 Saturday loss at Wyoming. The Lobos (7–12, 0–6 Mountain West) have lost six consecutive games.
How the seven former Tar Heels did
Garrison Brooks, Mississippi State center
78–60 Saturday win vs. Mississippi — Started; 32 minutes, 17 points, 6–11 FG, 0–1 3FG, 5–6 FT, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 2 steals, +25
Season statistics — 18 games, 18 starts, 11.2 points, 48.2 FG%, 32.5% 3FG%, 76.3% FT%, 6.5 rebounds; season totals of 13 assists, 13 blocks, 7 steals
Up next — 9 p.m. Tuesday at Kentucky, ESPN; 6 p.m. Saturday at Texas Tech, ESPN2
Jeremiah Francis, New Mexico guard
93–91 Saturday loss at Wyoming — 1 minute, no statistics
Season statistics — 8 games, 1.8 points, 40.0% FG, 2–6 3FG; season totals of 5 rebounds, 13 assists, 1 block
Up next — 9 p.m. Tuesday vs. Fresno State, Stadium; 9 p.m. Friday vs. San Jose State, Mountain West Network
Brandon Huffman, Jacksonville State forward/center
79–71 Saturday win vs. Florida Gulf Coast — Started; 21 minutes, 9 points, 4–11 FG, 1–2 FT, 9 rebounds, +2
Season statistics — 17 games, 17 starts, 9.7 points, 62.3 FG%, 62.3 FT%, 6.3 rebounds; season totals of 3 assists, 18 blocks and 8 steals
Up next — 6:30 Thursday at Kennesaw State, ESPN+; 7 p.m. Saturday at Liberty, ESPN+
Walker Kessler, Auburn forward/center
80–71 Saturday win vs. Kentucky — Started; 31 minutes, 19 points, 8–10 FG, 3–4 FG, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 fouls, 1 turnover, 2 blocks, +15
Season statistics — 19 games, 19 starts, 10.7 points, 62.1 FG%, 14.8% 3FG, 65.0 FT%, 7.4 rebounds; season totals of 18 assists, 78 blocks, 19 steals
Up next — 8:30 Tuesday at Missouri, SEC Network; 2 p.m. Saturday vs. Oklahoma, ESPN
Walker Miller, Monmouth forward
61–58 Thursday win at Fairfield — Started; 31 minutes, 11 points, 5–9 FG, 1–2 3FG, 0–1 FT, 6 rebounds, 2 fouls, 2 turnovers, 1 block, 2 steals
78–62 Sunday win vs. Manhattan — Started; 31 minutes, 19 points, 7–16 FG, 1–4 3FG, 4–4 FT, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 fouls, 4 turnovers, +15
Season statistics — 18 games, 18 starts, 14.5 points, 48.3 FG%, 31.4 3FG%, 82.4 FT%, 6.0 rebounds; season totals of 15 assists, 16 blocks, 12 steals
Up next — 7 p.m. Friday vs. Canisius; 2 p.m. Sunday vs. Niagara
Andrew Platek, Siena guard
Out for the season after having surgery to repair a full tear in the Achilles tendon in his left leg
Season statistics — 5 games, 3 starts, 9.0 points, 40.9 FG%, 31.3 3FG%, 4–4 FT, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists
Seventh Woods, Morgan State guard
91–82 Saturday loss vs. Howard — 16 minutes, 0 points, 0–2 FG, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 turnovers
Season statistics — 9 games, 5 starts, 6.6 points, 51.2 FG%, 33.3 3FG%, 66.6% FT, 2.4 rebounds; season total of 28 assists, 6 steals, 2 blocks
Up next — 7:30 Monday at Norfolk State, ESPNU; 4 p.m. Saturday vs. Delaware State
Photo via @AuburnMBB