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GAME RECAP: Kentucky 82, Auburn 80

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Universe = unfair.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhere, in a past that’s either near or far, someone did something that affected the fortunes of the future in some way. Somehow, whatever happened to that person must have been good, because Auburn fans are forced to endure karmic injustices like we saw today for some reason.

It’s not fun to write about losses, and today’s 82-80 defeat at home to Kentucky is no different. In fact, it’s even less enjoyable, purely due to the fact that the grit and heart that the Tigers displayed meant nothing in the end, since the Wildcats walked out of Auburn Arena with the victory. Now, Auburn’s 2-2 in SEC play, and without Austin Wiley for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be difficult to replicate last year’s success.

In today’s game, Auburn took a huge home advantage, got the opening bucket, led late in the first half, and then didn’t lead again until there were 32 seconds remaining in the game thanks to Jared Harper’s spot-up three. Kentucky got two free throws from Tyler Herro to reclaim the lead, and Harper’s runner for the win spun off of the iron in the closing seconds. Kentucky notched one more free throw before Samir Doughty’s midcourt prayer clanked off the backboard, and Kentucky earned a huge road win in the SEC.

It started well. Neither team could really hit shots early, but the tempo of play was electric, and both sides were showing just how physical they could be. The Tigers fell behind but took a 20-18 edge on a three-pointer from Doughty with 7:39 to play in the first half, and held the lead until the final two minutes of the half. Kentucky put together a 9-0 run at the end of the period to take a 35-27 lead into the locker room, thanks in large part to their presence in the paint. In the first half alone, the Wildcats had 18 points in the paint (Auburn had 8), and they’d scored 12 points off of 7 Auburn turnovers (the Tigers had 3 points off of 6 UK turnovers).

After the half, Kentucky seemed poised to run away with the contest. They opened up a 17 point lead just three minutes into the second half, before Auburn got the key explosive play it needed. Trailing by 15, Bryce Brown hit a three and got fouled, converting a four-point play to cut the Kentucky lead to 11 points at 48-37. Brown’s next three pulled the Tigers back within single digits, but Kentucky rebuilt a 15-point edge midway through the half at 64-49.

Brown’s third and fourth threes of the half helped pull the Tigers within one possession, as the lead had been trimmed to 66-63. Then, trailing 78-73, Horace Spencer took a pass and got fouled hard at the rim. He went to the floor, cracking his head on the floor and had to leave to get a cut stitched up. Bryce Brown hit two foul shots, and Spencer rejoined the game wearing #55. He immediately hit a jumper in the lane to cut the lead to just 2 points, and then Jared Harper gave Auburn the lead with his last three-pointer of the game with 32 seconds left.

Kentucky got two free throws from Tyler Herro to retake an 81-80 lead, and then Harper’s runner on Auburn’s next possession spun off the rim with 3.3 seconds left. Kentucky hit one more free throw, and Samir Doughty’s desperation heave from just past midcourt fell off the backboard as time expired.

Bryce Brown scored 28 points in the game on 8-9 shooting — he was perfect in the second half (25 points, 7-7 shooting, 5-5 from three, 6-6 free throws) — and almost single-handedly willed Auburn to a comeback win. Jared Harper finished with 17 points, and Malik Dunbar sparked the first half run with 10 points. Chuma Okeke also added 11 for the Tigers, who shot 46% overall and 43% from three-point range. Unfortunately, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro each scored 20 points for Kentucky, who dominated the paint with 38 points.

Up next for Auburn, it’s a road game with South Carolina on Tuesday night at 5:30 pm CST.