As one of two remaining undefeated teams in the country, it’s only natural for fans around the country to try and pinpoint the first loss of the season for Auburn. The Tigers got through the non-conference portion of the schedule unscathed at 12-0, but the first foray into SEC play wouldn’t be an easy one. Many folks predicted that Starkville and Mississippi State would provide the first bloodied nose of the year for Bruce Pearl, but the Tigers went in, overcame a slow start, and controlled the second half on the way to an 80-68 victory to improve to 13-0 on the year.
It was yet another game in which Auburn took punches, but J’Von McCormick’s finest game ever spurred the Tigers on to their 25th win in the last 26 tries. McCormick exploded for 28 points on the game, including 20 in the second half as Auburn took the SEC opener.
The first half looked to be a study in rock fighting, since Auburn scored just 9 points in the first thirteen minutes of play. Mississippi State turned a 6-6 tie at the first timeout of the game into a 17-9 advantage roughly ten minutes later, and the Tigers again found themselves absolutely cold from the floor. Isaac Okoro finally broke the drought with a three-point play, and McCormick tied the game at 18 with a little jumper moments later. Austin Wiley’s layup in the final two minutes of the half pushed Auburn in front 23-22 and the Tigers would never relinquish the lead after that moment. At halftime, Auburn opened up a 29-24 advantage despite hitting just 58% of their free throws, 33% from the floor, and going 0-11 from three. Additionally, Mississippi State blocked 8 shots in the first twenty minutes, so Auburn’s gumption showed through despite the trouble at the rim.
The Tigers were much better in the second half. Switching ends of the floor paid dividends less than three minutes in, when McCormick hit the team’s first three of the game. That bucket opened up a 36-26 lead for Auburn, but the Bulldogs would close the gap to one score. They did a great job of putting Auburn in foul trouble, and eight straight points from the foul line shrunk the margin to 41-39. Immediately after that, McCormick hit another three, followed by an Isaac Okoro dunk, and the Tigers could breathe again. MSU pulled within one score again shortly thereafter, but then the game’s key sequence commenced.
Danjel Purifoy picked up where he left off against Lipscomb with his first three, followed up by another three 32 seconds later, and then he scored a tip-in in transition a minute later. Suddenly, Auburn led 56-46, and they’d cruise from that point on. MSU would only be able to close the lead to six points, and when McCormick’s tip shot pushed the lead to 68-57 with 3:20 left, MSU was cooked.
In J’Von McCormick’s finest game as a Tiger, he scored a career-high and game-high 28 points, to go along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. The rest of Auburn’s starters played an even game as well, with Samir Doughty adding 15 points and 8 rebounds, while Isaac Okoro had 14 points and 8 boards. Danjel Purifoy scored 11 points and notched 8 boards, while Austin Wiley had 10 and 5 rebounds. Mississippi State was led by Reggie Perry’s 21 points and Nick Weatherspoon’s 18 points.
Up next for Auburn, the Tigers welcome Vanderbilt to Auburn Arena for the home conference opener. Tipoff comes this Wednesday at 8 PM on the Plains for the still-perfect Tigers. War Eagle!