AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn's leading rebounder is a 6-foot-3 transfer from Presbyterian College. The best shot blocker and tallest starter is a 6-foot-7 guy whose other college options included MIT and Yale.
The 11th-ranked Tigers are having their best season in decades and have built a two-game lead in the Southeastern Conference despite being undersized and short-handed. They're holding their own just fine around the basket, too.
That's largely thanks to the outsized play of cerebral shot blocker Anfernee McLemore and 6-3, 225-pound power forward Desean Murray, a former All-Big South Conference performer who sat out last season after transferring from Presbyterian.
"I'm sure they would think it's a big disadvantage with me being 6-3 and playing the 4" position, Murray said. "I mean, I guess I've got to come every night and play hard so that's not the case."
That strategy is working well for Auburn (20-2, 8-1 SEC), which hosts Vanderbilt (8-14, 2-7) Saturday night. The Tigers haven't been ranked this high since 2000 and are chasing just the program's third SEC title and first since 1999.
They've done it all without center Austin Wiley and 6-7 forward Danjel Purifoy, neither of whom have played this season amid an internal review of the program following the arrest of associate head coach Chuck Person on federal bribery, conspiracy and fraud charges.
It has left a scrappy team that often faces significant size mismatches but can also run, shoot and score with anybody in the league.
The Tigers lead the SEC in scoring at 85.7 points per game, which would make them the league's highest scoring team since Kentucky averaged 91.4 points in 1996. They're are also tops in offensive rebounding while making and attempting more 3-pointers than any other league team.
Auburn's size and style of play can create some matchup challenges for opposing teams, including in Tuesday night's 79-70 win over Mississippi .
It's reminiscent of the up tempo teams that coach Bruce Pearl had making NCAA Tournaments regularly at Tennessee, with Bryce Brown as the sharp shooter instead of Chris Lofton.
"I think they are just playing at a different speed then others at this point," Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said after the game. "They just look faster to me."
The 6-7 Anfernee McLemore is leading the league in blocked shots and is the only starter who tops 6-5. Before he was putting up big block numbers, McLemore scored 1670 on the SAT and was accepted to MIT.
"Anfernee's really quick off the ground and he's got a really good sense of judgment when that ball is going to go and when it's going to come off somebody's hands," Murray said. "He's just really good at doing what he does, so I couldn't even really tell you how but it's crazy to see him doing that."
Horace Spencer is an inch taller and plays significant minutes off the bench.
"I mean, it's just huge what both Anfernee and Horace are able to do holding down the inside," Pearl said.
Murray, meanwhile, is still collecting rebounds at about the same rate he did at Presbyterian. His 7.1 rebounds per game ranks tied for sixth in the SEC, and Murray is also pulling down three offensive boards a game.
"He knows how to use his body," Pearl said. "So he'll check you out every time the ball gets shot because for his entire life he's had to check-out when the ball got shot. Otherwise he couldn't rebound. And the best position rebounders are the small guys."
Right now, the "small guys" at Auburn are getting big results.
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