AUBURN, Ala. — When Bryce Brown set his original career-high in points for Auburn basketball in February 2016, all 27 of them came on 3-pointers.
On Friday night, in the season opener of his third season at Auburn, Brown had a much different career performance.
Brown scored 31 points on 12 of 16 shooting — which featured a strong 4 of 8 from 3-point range, but an even more stunning 8 of 8 from inside the arc — in Auburn’s 102-74 rout of Norfolk State.
“Definitely not what I predicted,” Brown said. “But I’ve been challenged by the coaches, and I’m just trying to do a little bit more than just standing on the perimeter and being one-dimensional in my job. They couldn’t stop me from getting to the rack, so I just proceeded with that.”
Brown led all scorers by a healthy margin in the Tigers’ victory, which came without the help of star sophomores Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy due to continued eligibility concerns.
The junior from Stone Mountain, Ga., hit his first five shots of the game and had 23 points by halftime. The rest of Brown’s teammates upped their scoring in an incredibly efficient second half, but he still finished well with a few more highlight-reel scores.
“Bryce Brown picked up where he left off in Italy,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “He did lead us in scoring in Italy. He was terrific tonight , and I didn’t think he forced a lot of action. He got a lot of good looks. He scored at the rim, he scored from 3. … That really bodes well for us.”
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In his first two seasons at Auburn, Brown established himself as a pure 3-and-D gunner for the Tigers. His freshman campaign featured plenty of deep-shooting outbursts, as he finished with a school freshman-record 78 3-pointers in 2015-16.
However, Auburn’s staff — which was noticeably tough on Brown during practices this preseason — pushed Brown to expand his game. On Friday night, he showcased all of that.
“I think Bryce would tell you that I’ve sort of pigeon-holed him as a shooter, and he really gets almost more joy from the game when he’s doing other things,” Pearl said. “And as long as he keeps his happy feet down and doesn’t try to go too fast and has a good tempo, he’s able to finish. He’s strong, he’s athletic.”
Brown’s outburst Friday night came at a great time for Auburn. As Wiley and Purifoy sat out, sophomore guard Mustapha Heron struggled with his shot, going 4 of 10 from the field and 0 of 3 from deep.
Brown said he didn’t feel any extra stress to take over the game offensively, but it happened anyway.
“I don’t really feel pressure to do it, but I mean, I just felt like the game came to me,” Brown said. “I felt like my teammates hit me in the right spots. … I was one of the options to be there and score.”