If you're a fan of tightly played, fun, good basketball, then tonight was one of those nights where you just wanted to gouge out your eyes.
Fouls were being called at an unbelievable rate. All of the Auburn big men were in serious foul trouble with four personals before the game hit five minutes to play. Mizzou wasn't doing much better. Unfortunately, for Auburn, the Tigers were shooting at less than 50% from the free throw line for most of the contest. That's unacceptable on any given day, but when you're in a must-win situation on the road against what is probably the worst team in the conference this season, it just can't happen. The good news is that when it mattered most - in the final minutes of the game with seconds ticking away - Auburn hit every free throw they needed to.
The lead changed hands multiple times in the first half as Mizzou was killing Auburn on the boards, particularly on the Mizzou offensive side. Mizzou was struggling with their shooting, but they had so many second-chance points that they were able to stay in the game and even lead it throughout much of the first half.
The one good thing Auburn did under the Mizzou basket was block, as the Tigers had double-digit blocks on the night. That's pretty much the only thing, though. The rebounding was really atrocious and haunted the good Tigers all night. It (along with horrific shooting from the line) is the primary reason this game ended the way it did. If there's one area we can point to tonight where Auburn really missed Danjel Purifoy, it was here in his presence under the opponent's basket.
Late in the game, with Mizzou on a big run to tie the game, Mustapha Heron - quiet for much of the night - came alive. He drained a three-pointer and then came back with a beautiful jumper as the shot clock expired to give the Tigers a five-point lead with just under 2 minutes to play. The first of those shots put him in double-digits for an Auburn freshman record 16 straight games. He finished with 16 to lead the team. Another bad foul let Mizzou get it back to a one-score game on free throws, though.
Auburn was able to run some clock off before getting two free throws by Harper to stretch the lead back to five. A bad foul with plenty of time on the shot clock on Mustapha Heron let the bad Tigers get back within three with 40 seconds to play. Mizzou didn't foul, though, letting Auburn run twenty seconds off the game clock before fouling Heron, who drained them both. The game became a back-and-forth from there with Mizzou driving fast for a basket and then quickly attempting a foul. They somehow let another 6 seconds go before Ronnie Johnson went to the line and hit his two.
Mizzou drove down again, but with seconds left Jared Harper swiped the ball to seal the Auburn victory.
If there are bright spots to take away from this game - and, yes, there are some - they're in the play of Auburn's sophomores. Horace Spencer and Bryce Brown both scored in the double-digits. Brown, who did struggle with some bad late fouls, appeared to regain some of his confidence going 4 of 8 from beyond the arc.
Auburn needed this win in a bad way to avoid going to Kentucky - who will be out for revenge for last season's defeat in Auburn Arena - winless in conference. They'll go to Lexington 11-5 overall, 1-3 in conference to play the Wildcats in Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon at 3pm Central.