19-2. That’s the bottom line from tonight’s MONUMENTAL, SEASON-DEFINING WIN OVER KENTUCKY.
Auburn took down the Kentucky Wildcats tonight 75-66 at home to move into second place in the SEC standings, and score the biggest and most important win of the season thus far. After the 15-0 start, then the two straight road losses, many were looking for a win on which to pin the Tigers’ resume. Tonight, we got it.
Samir Doughty scored a game-high 23 points to lead Auburn, including a 14-15 mark from the foul line. His desire to drive and the ability to make Kentucky pay at the free throw stripe were key in the victory. Overall, Auburn shot 44 free throws on the night, scoring 33 times and accounting for 44% of their total points in the win. As a team, Auburn drew 29 fouls on Kentucky and drove the narrative of the game, with several key Wildcats spending time on the bench due to foul trouble.
While Doughty kept Auburn in the game scoring 16 of the Tigers’ first 21 points, it was Isaac Okoro who finished it late with some heroics from beyond the arc. Okoro buried a triple to tie the game at 54 6:52 to play, and then he sent home another long ball that put Auburn up 68-62 in the final three minutes, and the Tigers were able to close the win out at the free throw line after that.
The first half, however, was a game of runs. Kentucky’s first three possessions resulted in three points apiece, with Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, and Immanuel Quickley all converting either three-pointers or three-point plays. Samir Doughty hit seven free throws in the opening minutes, putting Auburn up 11-10 before a three pointer gave the Tigers a 14-10 edge. Kentucky fought back with a 9-0 run keyed by a Johnny Juzang corner three, but then the two teams played an even first half after that, capped by dueling threes from Danjel Purifoy and Maxey. At the break, Kentucky held a 35-34 advantage, but foul trouble was starting to mount for both teams.
In the second half, Kentucky felt the sting of the referees’ whistle more than Auburn did. With a more limited bench, the Wildcats couldn’t afford to lose any bodies, but they couldn’t keep from fouling. Auburn took a lead four minutes into the second half on a J’Von McCormick layup to take a 45-44 edge, but both teams slowed offensively over the next several minutes. Kentucky surged ahead 54-49, but an Anfernee McLemore dunk led into the Okoro three to knot the game at 54. Minutes later at the 4:02 mark, Danjel Purifoy’s huge three gave the Tigers a lead they’d never relinquish. His bucket put Auburn on top 62-60, and Auburn iced the game at the free throw line with Okoro providing the knockout punch with his late three.
Auburn has now won two straight games against the Wildcats, with a revenge victory tonight over one of the few teams to beat the Tigers at home. What Auburn did tonight was remarkable. For a team that had played fairly sloppy at times both at home and on the road, Auburn finished up a 2-0 week with a rousing win that was possibly more controlling than the score indicated. Auburn outrebounded Kentucky 42-28, committed only 7 turnovers, and won the battle in nearly every category (Bench Points, Points in the Paint, Steals, Assists, and Fastbreak Points). If it hadn’t been for the Tigers’ poor shooting in the first half, Auburn may have been able to take a commanding lead over the Wildcats. Instead, we had to gut it out in true Auburn fashion.
As far as overall scoring, Doughty’s 23 lead the way with Quickley adding 23 for Kentucky. Isaac Okoro finished with 14 points for Auburn, and Austin Wiley had a huge night with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and a erasure of Nick Richards on the inside. Kentucky got 22 points from Tyrese Maxey, but it was the Tiger experience that got the win in this one.
Now, Auburn gets to enjoy a tough three-game stretch, starting on Tuesday night in Fayetteville. The Tigers will head to Arkansas to take on Eric Musselman and one of the top guard-oriented attacks in the conference. After that, it’s a home matchup with LSU next Saturday before Alabama comes to town for a revenge game in the midweek. Auburn now moves into second place in the SEC standings, behind only LSU, who won today to improve to 8-0 on the year.