Auburn freshman point guard Sharife Cooper put on a dazzling performance Saturday in his Tigers debut, posting 26 points, nine assists and four rebounds just hours after being deemed eligible by the NCAA. Cooper's outing wasn't quite enough to lift Auburn past its rival, though, as Alabama escaped with a 94-90 road win.
It was nonetheless an encouraging sign for Auburn fans that had long awaited Cooper's arrival. He lived up to the billing ... and then some. Cooper showed a little rust around the edges -- missing six of his seven 3-point attempts and committing a team-high five turnovers -- but it was more than anyone expected after missing the team's first 11 games while awaiting NCAA eligibility clearance.
"You could tell how hard Sharife has worked to stay right and stay ready," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said after the game.
Cooper did more than just stuff the stat sheet -- he did it with splendor. Take this lob to Devan Cambridge just before the end of the first half, for instance, as he split a double team at the top of the key to break free for a huge momentum-shifter before the break.
Or this lob, which JT Thor finished with one arm. Cooper read the defense perfectly and threw it where only Thor could reach it.
He did a little scoring, too, with this casual step-back 3-pointer from way beyond the arc looking way too easy for someone who hadn't played in a game all season.
Auburn drops to 0-4 in SEC play on the season and one of only 10 power conference programs yet to notch a win in league play, but Cooper's arrival signals that brighter days are ahead.