Auburn withstood a vicious shooting performance from Missouri, and didn’t get the typical performances from its stars in the second round of the SEC Tournament. None of that mattered, though, and the orange and blue Tigers pulled away with another big second half to beat Missouri 81-71 and advance to tomorrow’s quarterfinal against South Carolina.
In a game that seemed to mirror the first meeting between these two teams in many ways, Auburn had to find different ways to win away from home. Bryce Brown and Jared Harper were cold in the first half, and Chuma Okeke spent time on the bench with foul trouble. Without the three players who have been dominating lately, Bruce Pearl had to rely on unorthodox methods to score today’s victory.
Enter Horace Spencer.
The senior had one of his best games as a Tiger, finishing the day with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 4 steals, and steadying the team throughout a rough first half. His big effort was joined by a solid game from Malik Dunbar, who added 11 points of his own. Auburn needed every single one of those points early on, as Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combined for 0 points in the first half.
It was a half that contained many forgetful qualities. Chuma Okeke committed two fouls early on and only played a few minutes, and Auburn shot poorly as a team, especially from three-point range. Auburn missed its first eight shots from behind the arc before Anfernee McLemore finally hit from deep. That make retook the lead for Auburn at 13-12 with 12:03 to go in the half. After Missouri got a big three from Mitchell Smith, Auburn constructed an 11-0 run to build a 30-21 lead, but it didn’t stand. At halftime, the Tigers led just 32-30.
After the intermission, things improved. Bryce Brown, who went 0-6 in the first half, finally caught fire. Leading 40-37, Brown finally made contact from long range and connected on his first three. He followed that with two more consecutive makes from distance to quickly run out a 49-39 edge for Auburn.
Unfortunately, Missouri refused to go away. Buoyed by their three-point shooting (the Tigers hit 15-28 overall in this game), they kept it close. Torrance Watson tied the game at 52 with a three-pointer, but a three-point play from Horace Spencer, and a three from Danjel Purifoy reestablished a six-point lead, and Auburn never wavered. The closest Missouri got after that was within a 61-57 deficit with 6:40 to play, but Auburn got key buckets down the stretch. Jared Harper notched his first points with a dagger three from the corner with 3:12 to go, giving Auburn a 71-63 edge, and the good Tigers cruised at the foul line from there.
Bryce Brown led Auburn with 17 points on the day, all coming after halftime, as he went 5-10 from downtown. With today’s performance, he now has 350 career three-pointers, moving past Allan Houston for fourth all-time in the SEC. Next up on the list is Pat Bradley, who hit 366 three-pointers in his career at Arkansas. Chuma Okeke had 12 points as the fourth Tiger in double-digits. As a team, Auburn hit 46% of its shots, and they found good success inside, shooting 15-25 from inside the arc. Missouri owned the perimeter, going 15-28 from distance, led by Jordan Geist’s 25 points. That follows a 30-point effort last night in the win over Georgia.
Auburn will advance to play the 4-seed South Carolina Gamecocks tomorrow at roughly 2:30 pm CST. The winner of that game plays the winner of the Florida-LSU matchup that precedes it as the first game of the day. War Eagle!