Playing on Paradise Island did not turn out to be complete paradise for Auburn, but coach Bruce Pearl discovered he can put plenty of trust in his Tigers.
After winning two of three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, No. 21 Auburn returns home to play UCF on Wednesday nightin Auburn, Ala.
Despite dropping the tournament's opening game -- a thrilling 115-109 double-overtime loss to UConn -- the three-day event proved to be a strong one for the Tigers (5-1), who also will host Yale on Saturday.
Following that setback in extra time, Pearl's team responded with a 62-53 win over Loyola Chicago before turning in its best showing of the week -- an 89-68 rout of Syracuse on Friday.
Jabari Smith produced 22 points as Auburn, which led by 10 at halftime, outscored the Orange 46-35 in a high-flying, fast-paced second half.
In all, Pearl's bunch threw down nine dunks.
All the while, the coach did not doubt the leadership of his group of the court.
"When you've got Jabari Smith and Jaylin Williams in the middle of a zone like that -- you're trying to get them the ball, you put it in their hands and you just trust them," Pearl said. "You trust them to get inside out, you trust them to get to the rim, you trust them to make plays. They're both terrific playmakers."
Pearl gives much credit to newcomer K.D. Johnson, the point guard running the Tigers' offense who pushes the ball upcourt and finds Smith, Williams and Devan Cambridge on breaks.
A transfer from the University of Georgia, Johnson averaged more than 13 points per game for the Bulldogs last season before moving over to the Southeastern Conference's West Division.
He has boosted his average to 15.7 points per game, second only to Smith's 16.3.
"K.D. is a playmaker," Pearl said. "He's aggressive. I love the fact that he makes a lot of good decisions to come off the ball. He has a feel for when a guy needs some help, and he's willing to go make a play.
"And when he goes in, he usually gets it. He's kind of like a shark. ... He goes and gets it."
The Knights are off to a 4-1 start.
Despite losing 65-62 at home to Oklahoma on Saturday, UCF battled hard to the end and forced the Sooners to make baskets to earn the road win.
One major difference was the physical play: OU muscled its way to a 34-14 advantage in points in the paint.
"For us, we had to adjust to the game, a more physical game," UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. "It took us 20 minutes to embrace how the game was played."
The Knights boast a pair of scorers in double figures -- Darin Green Jr. (16.4 points per game) and Darius Perry (13.4).
Green leads the team in long-range shooting - 17 for 35 (48.6 percent) - while Perry is second, knocking down 11-of-25 (44 percent) shot attempts.
Added Dawkins: "I love our team -- they are very competitive."
UCF will round out the week by hosting Bethune-Cookman on Saturday.
--Field Level Media