Auburn came into today with a chance to win at Rupp Arena for the first time in 33 years. After twenty minutes of play, it seemed like the Tigers were poised to break that streak, but Kentucky’s huge second half surge set the tone and effectively won the game. The Wildcats scored an 82-80 victory over Auburn to improve to 6-13 on the year, and the two teams split the regular season series with one apiece.
The difference in this game came at the free throw line, where Kentucky was awarded many more chances than Auburn. The Tigers, and in particular Sharife Cooper, tried to penetrate time and again, but were rebuffed in “clean” defensive play by the Wildcats. Cooper attempted 15 shots in the paint, and shot zero free throws on the afternoon. Auburn attempted 43 shots inside the arc and shot just ten total free throws. Meanwhile, Kentucky went to the line 25 times.
It was a coming out party for J.T. Thor, who led all scorers with 24 points, including a 5-6 mark from downtown, and he was joined by Allen Flanigan’s 23 points. Cooper finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists. Kentucky got a nice performance from Isaiah Jackson, who notched 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats.
Auburn led from the start, taking a 5-0 lead out of the gate and holding a 10-4 edge at the 15:00 mark after Jamal Johnson’s first three. Four minutes later the Tigers had doubled up Kentucky 18-9 on a Jaylin Williams three, but Kentucky strung together a 7-0 run to pull within an 18-16 score. Two straight buckets by Cooper pushed Auburn’s lead out to 25-19, and then five straight points from Flanigan in the final three minutes gave the Tigers a 31-24 lead. In the final 90 seconds, a Cooper three put the Tigers ahead 36-28, but Olivier Sarr’s dunk in the final minute set up the 36-30 halftime advantage that the Tigers enjoyed.
Things changed in the first few minutes of the second half. Kentucky tied the game on an 8-2 run before Sharife Cooper gave Auburn a short-lived edge with a three-pointer. After that, the Cats got a three from Sarr to take a 42-41 lead, and never gave it up again. Overall, Kentucky posted a 20-7 run in the first 5:22 of the half to go up 50-43. By the midway points of the half, a Brandon Boston three pushed Kentucky ahead by 14 points at 63-49 for their largest lead of the game. After that, the Tigers whittled away. At the 5:37 mark, Auburn got a Jaylin Williams jumper that cut the deficit to 8 points, then back-to-back buckets by Thor pulled Auburn with two possessions at 75-71 with 3:33 to go. With 75 seconds to go, Thor pulled Auburn within one score, and Flanigan evened the game on a steal and layup with 46 seconds left. Davion Mintz hit a wide open three for Kentucky to put the Wildcats back on top, and they took an 82-77 lead into the closing seconds. J.T. Thor hit three foul shots to cut the lead to one score, but Kentucky was able to inbound and run out the final second to win.
Auburn will meet Mississippi State at home on Tuesday night, with an 8 PM CST tipoff.