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GAME RECAP: #22 Auburn 70, South Alabama 69

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You sold on Okoro yet?

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Davidson Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn ran out to a double-digit second half lead, watched it slip away, and needed help from a true freshman to escape Mobile with a victory tonight.

The Tigers improved to 3-0 as Isaac Okoro hit the game winner on a falling putback with 1.3 seconds to play, lifting Auburn over South Alabama 70-69. With the win, Auburn improves to 3-0 on the young season, with all three wins coming over experienced and talented mid-major teams.

Okoro hit the winning shot after multiple misses by Auburn, and he was the benefactor of a great find from Samir Doughty on the play as well.

The freshman led Auburn in scoring with 15 points, to go along with a stellar line that included 6 rebounds and 6 assists. He was one of four Auburn players in double figures, along with 14 points apiece from Jamal Johnson and Anfernee McLemore, and a 10-point 10-rebound night from Samir Doughty. South Alabama was led by Andre Fox’s 23 points.

Overall, Auburn and USA hit 44% of their shots, and the stat line looks similar to last year’s Tiger team as they went 10-24 from downtown. Unfortunately, a poor free throw shooting night allowed South Alabama to make its way back into the ballgame, as Auburn went just 12-22.

One area where the Tigers were stellar was in terms of the bench. Auburn’s reserves outscored the backup Jaguars 32-9, and the 28 combined points from Johnson and McLemore were huge boosts to Auburn’s cause. Johnson, in particular, was a huge spark in the first half with 8 points and a pair of three-pointers, while McLemore also hit from deep and added 7 first half points as Auburn built a 38-30 halftime lead.

With fouls mounting, the Tigers would have to turn to the bench in the front court, as both McLemore and Austin Wiley spent time in foul trouble. Wiley eventually fouled out with only 2 points and a single rebound to his credit. Enter Stretch Akingbola, who notched a mighty block on his first defensive possession and gave Auburn a second-half spark it would need.

Stretch’s assist on a Jamal Johnson three put Auburn up 59-47 midway through the second half, and that lead would still hang at ten points with five minutes to play. USA chipped back within two possessions on consecutive shots from Fox, and then he made a pair of threes in the final minute to put the Jaguars on top 69-68. From there, it was time for Okoro to shine. On Auburn’s final possession, J’Von McCormick and Anfernee McLemore both missed threes, while Samir Doughty corralled offensive rebounds on both misses. The second rebound went to Okoro in the paint, for a little fall-back one-hander that settled through the basket, giving Auburn the lead back with 1.3 seconds on the clock.

With the win, Auburn’s 3-0, with a much less stressful game against Cal-State Northridge coming up on Friday night. War Eagle!