Auburn basketball: What does Bruce Pearl think when Jared Harper pulls up from deep 3-point range

Auburn basketball-Jared Harper-Bruce Pearl-Auburn Tigers

SEC Country wants to tackle the best questions from Auburn football and Auburn basketball fans. Today, though, we’re doing something a little different. Look for our Auburn Question of the Day most weekdays. Go here to see all of our previous answers.

When Jared Harper pulls up from the logo, what’s going through your mind, Bruce Pearl?

— Justin Ferguson (in a news conference)

AUBURN, Ala. — Jared Harper says he didn’t know where his feet where Wednesday night when he pulled up for his second 3-pointer in Auburn basketball’s 90-71 win over Alabama.

“I really don’t look down,” Harper said. “I really don’t see where I shoot from until after the game. It really feels the same as being up on the 3-point line.”

On the other end of the floor, though, Bruce Pearl could see exactly where Harper was standing — along with the thousands in attendance in Auburn Arena.

After getting a kick-out pass from Horace Spencer, Harper’s feet were on the blue of the AU logo at center court. It would’ve been a deep 3-pointer for an NBA player. For almost any college basketball player, it’s a wild shot that shouldn’t be taken unless the shot clock is almost at zero.

But Harper is an exception, and he hit it. He does that often.

“When he pulls up and shoots those shots, do you think they’re going in?” Pearl asked Thursday morning. “If he’s clean, he’s got a look.”

Harper has become a master of the deep 3-pointer this season. The 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard from Mableton, Ga., is third in the SEC in assists. He’s the distributor, the floor general, the one who makes everything go for Auburn’s shoot-first, ask-questions-later offense.

“When you have a maestro like little Harper… I don’t know if I should call him little, but he has a way of settling down his team and did a nice job tonight,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said Wednesday.

Johnson knows great point guards when he sees them. He was a sub-6-foot point player himself. He led the nation in assists twice at Southern and averaged 7.4 per game for an NBA title-winning San Antonio Spurs team in 1998-99.

But Johnson wasn’t a shooter. Not many assist-heavy point guards are.

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Harper, though, is a real weapon from beyond the arc — and way beyond the arc, too. He’s hitting 40 percent of his 3-pointers this season.

That kind of efficiency in space makes teams respect Harper’s range. And when defenders come too tight on him in the half court, he has all the room he needs to blow by them for looks at the rim. Harper draws six fouls per 40 minutes, which ranks inside the top 100 nationally. His free-throw rate is No. 18 in the country.

“Alabama’s got great length, so he understands the importance of being able to really shoot with that kind of range,” Pearl said. “If you’ve got to guard him that far away from the basket, it sets up his shot fake and his ability to go by you. That range is a great, great thing.”

One of the more unique aspects of Harper’s game this season is how his 3-pointers have come in the flow of the offense. Sometimes, like his first 3-pointer against Alabama, Harper will pull up from deep without passing the ball once.

According to Hoop Math, only 36.4 percent of Harper’s 3-pointers this season have come off of assists. For everybody else on Auburn’s roster, that percentage is higher than 73 percent, with five different players higher than 90 percent.

Those pull-up bombs can look forced, but that’s not his mindset.

“I don’t know if I was necessarily trying to be aggressive,” Harper said. “I was letting my shots come to me, and I knew after warmups that I felt like my shot was going good. So if I had the opportunity, I was going to take advantage of it.”

Harper took full advantage and led shorthanded Auburn to a memorable 19-point win over Alabama. In a game that featured multiple players who will be NBA draft picks some day, Harper was the MVP.

“I love his confidence, and I love his game,” Pearl said Wednesday. “Against South Carolina and the last time we played Alabama, he wasn’t the best point guard on the floor. Tonight, he was. You can see the result. There’s a lot of pressure on Jared. He has gotten a lot of burden. Break pressure, make plays, make shots, defend, and he was terrific tonight. I do love his confidence. He’s got great ability. He was the best player on the floor.”

Harper’s efficient game against the Crimson Tide — 21 points, 10 for 11 from the free-throw line, 6 assists — came after a nightmare performance against South Carolina. He had a career-high 9 turnovers, shot 25 percent from the floor and fouled out against the Gamecocks.

ON THE BEAT: Just stop trying to figure out this Auburn basketball team

Harper wiped that from his memory quickly and caught fire early in his return to Auburn Arena.

“That was probably one of my worst games this past Saturday,” Harper said. “I know what I have to do. Sometimes those games are going to happen, but it’s what you do after the games. I’m glad I was able to come in today and have a better game.”

Whether it’s dishing assists or launching long-range 3-pointers, Harper is showcasing the all-around offensive game that has made him an SEC player of the year candidate.

And with every deep shot he hits, he gets one step closer to earning the respect of the conference and the rest of college basketball.

“I just want to come out every game and prove that I am one of the best guards in the country and one of the best guards in the SEC,” Harper said. “It doesn’t matter who the matchup is. I’m just looking forward to every game just to prove to everybody what I’m capable of doing.”

The post Auburn basketball: What does Bruce Pearl think when Jared Harper pulls up from deep 3-point range appeared first on SEC Country.

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