AUBURN — Bryce Brown and the Auburn Tigers found some relief on the court.
Brown scored a career-high 31 points and Auburn opened the season with a 102-74 victory over Norfolk State Friday night in a matchup of teams missing two of their top players. For 40 minutes, Auburn's focus was solely on hoops.
The Tigers (1-0) weathered the absence of center Austin Wiley and forward Danjel Purifoy with the help of Brown's 23-point first half. The game came after a troubling couple of months.
Auburn is holding the two sophomores out indefinitely citing eligibility issues. Former associate head coach Chuck Person has been indicted on federal charges after allegedly taking $91,500 in money to steer players to a financial advisor when they turn pro. He indicated some of that money went to two recruits' families, according to a federal complaint.
A Birmingham law firm is conducting an internal review of the program, and ESPN reported Wednesday that coach Bruce Pearl wasn't cooperating with the investigation, possibly jeopardizing his job.
"It's an ongoing process as we work to try to get through basically what we need to do to certify everybody to get everyone eligible, to look at our program," Pearl said. "And we are not done with it. We are definitely making progress."
Wiley watched from the bench in an Auburn hoodie while Purifoy wasn't with the team during the game. Purifoy had dental surgery Friday afternoon, Pearl said.
The FBI investigation was a hotter topic than the game.
"We made some mistakes that (have) brought some attention to our program," Pearl said. "Obviously we are working through that. You worry about what you can control and you have to be able to try to control the operation of your program. The mistakes that we made were self-inflicted."
Playing without preseason first-team All-MEAC pick Zaynah Robinson and second-teamer Alex Long, Norfolk State (0-1) was led by Mastadi Pitt's 18 points. Robertson and Long were both suspended for the game. Both were among six players ejected in last week's exhibition game against Virginia State.
Robert Morris transfer Steven Whitley had 14 points, six assists and six rebounds. Stavian Allen also scored 14 points and Preston Bungei had 10.
Jared Harper and Desean Murray scored 13 for Auburn, which got 10 points from Anfernee McLemore and Mustapha Heron. It was a balanced effort for a team that could easily have been distracted.
Brown said the players don't dwell on off the court things like speculation about Pearl's future.
"We constantly tell each other not to let it bother each other," Brown said. "We just focus on what we're supposed to do. We just let all that other stuff play out. I just try to just do my role and do my job and not worry about those other things."
Norfolk State: The short-handed Spartans never held the lead in the game and were dominated on the boards, 42-29. They opened last season with a four-point loss to another Southeastern Conference team, Mississippi State.
Auburn: Brown's outside shooting early helped overcome the missing inside presence. He had four 3-pointers, all in the opening half, and at one point matched Norfolk State's 15 points. It was a positive start for a team that lost to Division II Barry in its exhibition game.
Auburn's Horace Spencer and Norfolk State's Nic Thomas were called for technical fouls. Tempers flared briefly fighting for a loose ball in the second half.
Norfolk State: Hosts Lynchburg College Monday night in a quick turnaround.
Auburn: Plays Indiana State at the Charleston Classic on Thursday night.