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GAME RECAP: #5 Auburn 83, Vanderbilt 79

It was close, but Auburn pulls it out.

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

In true Auburn fashion, we couldn’t make it easy, but in the end all that matters is the final score.

83-79, Tigers over the Commodores. 14-0 on the year. Isaac Okoro had a gigantic night, scoring a career high 23 points with the dunk of the year. He dueled with Saben Lee from Vanderbilt, who notched 27 points on 10-14 shooting.

The first half was one of the quicker-starting ones offensively for Auburn this season, as the Tigers seemed to find holes in the Vanderbilt defense fairly early. The only issue was that it was essentially a two-man show for the Tigers during that time. Isaac Okoro and Anfernee McLemore combined for 31 of Auburn’s 42 points. Okoro did most of the damage by getting to the hoop and finishing through contact, hitting 5-6 shots from the floor and going 6-7 from the line before halftime. However, McLemore was the one that actually started the offense rolling with his three-pointer that gave Auburn a 9-8 advantage. He followed that with a layup, and by the under-8 timeout, he and Okoro had scored 20 of Auburn’s 23 points.

Once the Tigers took a 16-15 lead, they never trailed again in the first half, but they could never open up an advantage greater than two possessions. Vanderbilt shot 50% from the floor before halftime and hit 5-10 threes to stay in the game despite not playing great defense.

Auburn found a little more breathing room in the second half, running out to a 51-40 edge early on in the period thanks to a 7-0 run capped by an Allen Flanigan three. The Commodores answered with a 7-0 spurt of their own, during which Aaron Nesmith started to warm up, hitting a three and a wild off-balance shot as the shot clock expired. Despite Nesmith heating up, Saben Lee had cooled off after a 14-point first half, and Auburn regained the 11-point lead after Isaac Okoro canceled a man with a thunderous right hand tomahawk jam to put the Tigers up 60-49.

With that dunk, Okoro reached a new career-high in points less than midway through the second half. This came a game after J’Von McCormick did the same thing in Starkville with 28 points. To this point in the game, Okoro had 20 points, but Danjel Purifoy threw down a wild dunk of his own to hit double digits and give the Tigers their largest lead of the game at 64-51. By the 8-minute mark, Auburn led 69-55, and Austin Wiley notched his 8th career double double with free throws at the 4:15 mark. Up 73-64, the Tigers got a little tight and allowed the Commodores to come back into it. A Saben Lee three followed by a drive from Nesmith turned it into a 73-69 lead at the final break of the game.

Nesmith buried a turnaround wild three and got fouled to potentially cut the lead to two points at 75-73, but he missed the foul shot, and J’Von McCormick immediately scored on the other end. Purifoy made a huge block on Vandy’s next possession on what would have been a sure bucket for the Commodores, and then Okoro made one of two shots at the line to give the Tigers a 78-72 lead with 2:09 to play. Aaron Nesmith swished yet another three, his fourth in five tries, and the lead was down to one after Jordan Wright drove and scored with 1:07 left. Vanderbilt had hit 10-16 threes to this point in the game.

Isaac Okoro split a pair of foul shots, and Auburn led 79-77, but Vandy got an open run on the inbound pass and Purifoy was forced to foul Jordan Wright, who tied the game with two makes. Auburn turned to McCormick on the offensive end, and he would give the Tigers the lead back at the foul line, going two for two with 45 seconds left. Vanderbilt had two point blank chances under the basket on the next possession, but Okoro earned a massive rebound and got fouled as well. Needing a three, Vanderbilt threw the ball away and Danjel Purifoy stole it to earn the huge turnover. The Commodores were forced to foul, and McCormick made it a two-possession game at the line to ice an 83-79 win.

With the victory, Auburn is still undefeated at 14-0, while Vanderbilt drops to 8-6 Up next for the Tigers it’s a home game against Georgia this coming Saturday at 5 pm CST. War Eagle!