PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Bruce Pearl learned a lot about his Auburn team during a grueling three-day tournament in The Bahamas.
The 19th-ranked Tigers finished in fifth place at the Battle 4 Atlantis after beating Syracuse 89-68 on Friday.
“We got a lot better,” Pearl said. “You just saw us play half our season so far. So zone against Syracuse, difficult Loyola offense and athletes and physicality of UConn. We saw a lot. Can we build on it now? That’s the question. We got a lot better this week.”
Jabari Smith scored 22 points and K.D. Johnson added 15 points and five steals for the Tigers (5-1). Auburn's only loss of the tournament came in double overtime to UConn.
“We feel like we should have won three games. We came here to win two and we did that,” Smith said.
Auburn led by 10 at the half and increased the lead to 19 on a dunk by Johnson with 15:05 left. Syracuse used a 7-0 run to get within 64-54 with 8:10 remaining, but Smith ended the spurt with a 3-pointer from the wing and the Orange (3-3) got no closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Buddy Boeheim, Cole Swider and Jesse Edwards each scored 17 points for Syracuse.
“This was a tough tournament. The toughest tournament I played in since I’ve been coaching, top to bottom,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Our team isn’t quite ready for this. I think we can get there, but we’re not ready for it right now.”
Jimmy Boeheim, the younger of Jim Boeheim's two sons on the team who came into the game averaging 14.2 points, finished with three. His only basket came on a 3-pointer with 13:44 left in the second half.
Auburn trailed 25-24 with 7:20 left in the first half before scoring the next 11 points to go up 35-25. The Tigers held the Orange to one basket over the final 7:20 to go into the half up 43-33.
SOMETHING TO SAY
Smith received a technical foul with just over 4 minutes left for saying something to the Syracuse bench after he hit a 3-pointer — his final points of the game.
“The game was personal for my teammates and stuff,” Smith said. “Just fired up. I made a shot and said something I wasn’t supposed to say, I deserved the tech.”
Pearl said he talked to his star after he got the technical.
Auburn's bench outscored Syracuse 33-11 with six Tigers reserves scoring. Jaylin Williams had nine points and seven rebounds while Dylan Cardwell had six points and six boards.
“We play 11 guys and our guys were able to rotate and be fresh,” Pearl said. “I thought our bench was terrific."
The teams had only met one other time with Syracuse edging Auburn 79-78 in the 2003 NCAA Tournament. The Orange went on to win the title that season.
Syracuse: The Orange opened the Battle 4 Atlantis by shooting 29% in Wednesday's 67-55 loss to VCU, but regrouped to beat Arizona State 92-84 on Thursday.
Auburn: The Tigers opened their stay in The Bahamas with a wild 115-109 double-overtime loss to No. 22 UConn on Wednesday. They beat Loyola Chicago 62-53 on Thursday.
Syracuse: The Orange host Indiana on Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Auburn: The Tigers host UCF on Wednesday.
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