By Greg Ostendorf
ATHENS, Ga. -- Playing on the road in the SEC without its top scorer, it would have been understandable if Auburn lost Saturday. But if this season has taught us anything, it's that you should never count this group out. The Tigers, playing with an eight-man rotation, swept the season series with Georgia thanks to a 78-61 victory at their place.
"Chemistry, toughness and resiliency -- that's what makes this team special," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said after the game. "And this team has been really, really, really good."
Auburn is now 22-3 on the season, which is the second-best start through 25 games in program history. More importantly, the Tigers are 10-2 in conference play, and with Tennessee's loss at Alabama on Saturday, they're a full two games ahead of the next closest team.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday's win at Georgia.
1. No Bryce, no problem
It wasn't until 30 minutes before tip that Auburn announced that it would be without the services of Bryce Brown, the team's leading scorer and arguably best defender, because of a shoulder strain he suffered in the first half of Wednesday's loss to Texas A&M. But like Pearl said after Saturday's game, the Tigers weren't intimidated.
Harper stepped up in a major way with 24 points and seven assists, and fellow backcourt mate Mustapha Heron scored 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting. Heron, who scored 28 points in the Texas A&M game, is averaging 21.4 points per game over his last five games.
"(Not having Brown) didn't really change the mentality too much," Heron said. "It was just more of a next guy up. It's time to step up. Once your number gets called, it's time to step up. Malik (Dunbar) did a tremendous job of stepping up. It's unreal how big he stepped up for us. We knew it was something that he could do."
Dunbar, who got the start in place of Brown, played 24 minutes and finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Freshman guard Davion Mitchell also saw extended minutes and played one of his best games of the season. The Peach State native scored seven points and dished out two assists off the bench while also playing lock-down defense on Georgia's guards.
"I had to do what (Brown) does and lock up," Mitchell said. "I tried to hit a couple 3s like him, too, but I can't shoot as good as him."
2. Playing bigger
One of the primary concerns coming off Wednesday's loss was how an undersized Auburn team would play against bigger teams the rest of the season.
The Tigers, who don't start a single player taller than 6-foot-7, were tested again Saturday against a Georgia team that features three players 6-foot-8 or taller in their starting lineup. But when the clock hit zero, it was Auburn who won the rebounding edge (31-27) and the battle for points in the paint (30-26).
"We hit them first instead of letting them hit us," Heron said. "I think against Texas A&M, we allowed them to hit us and do what they wanted on the boards, so we had to hit (Georgia) first. We made it an emphasis, and we watched film."
3. Road warriors
Winning on the road in the SEC is not supposed to be easy. The rest of the 13 teams in the conference? They're a combined 33-68 on the road this season. But after Saturday's win at Georgia, Auburn is now 7-1 in true road games.
The Tigers are 5-1 on the road in SEC play, which is the best mark in the league, and it's also the first time they've won at least five SEC road games since going 6-2 in 1998-99.
"I think it's just the way we play," Heron said. "We play hard. I think if you don't play hard against us, you're not going to beat us. I think that's something that travels. Effort travels."
Auburn still has road games remaining at South Carolina, Florida and Arkansas.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: