Tigers Post Résumé Building Win
Jared Harper was flawless in second half against Mizzou. (photo: USA TODAY Sports)
Auburn was near the top of the SEC as the team warmed up Wednesday night in Columbia Missouri. The Tigers trailed just one team: Florida, who was playing the team from Columbia, S.C. As Auburn and Missouri tipped off, the Gamecocks put Florida away and opened the door for Auburn to jump back on top of the SEC.
To do that, Auburn had to win a tough game against a riled up crowd, no small task even for a top-20 team. In fact, ESPN’s BPI had them listed as having only a 40% chance to win against the 13–6 Mizzou Tigers, and Vegas had Auburn as a 1.5 point underdog. Fans who hadn’t watched this team, or maybe only saw the marquee game against Alabama last week, may have understood why. Auburn just didn’t show up for a game against a team it should handle. Fans who have watched them all season were left scratching their heads and wondering if Vegas and ESPN knew something they did not.
Out of the gate, Auburn had great energy, but shots kept falling for Missouri. Every time Auburn looked to put Mizzou away, the other Tigers fought back. Auburn simply could not get up ten points in the first half, although it has rarely led at the half this season, frequently going on massive runs in the second half to close out teams.
Against Missouri the whistles came very, very quickly, and Mizzou was in the bonus less than halfway through the first half. It wasn’t because they were forcing their way to rim and drawing fouls on shots. It was fouls away from the ball, offensive fouls, virtually any contact was being called, sometimes when there wasn’t contact. Anfernee McLemore found his way in foul trouble early, spelling trouble for Auburn.
Still, Auburn held a decent lead at the half, though the nine-point lead didn’t seem like much as Auburn wasn’t getting a lot of shots to fall. What Auburn was doing was forcing turnovers and blocking shots at critical times. Missouri would fight to within three, sometimes even one point, only to have a series of blocks and turnovers turn into Auburn points.
Again, a lead coming out of the half isn’t something Auburn has experienced much, and there was a feeling of wariness about what that might mean, especially with a pumped up Missouri crowd. However, Auburn shut the door on Mizzou just halfway into the second half, after Missouri cut the lead to one point, and went on an incredible run that broke open the flood gates, both in terms of points and to the exits of the arena. Auburn led by as many as 17 and averaged around a 15-point lead for the majority of the second half, eventually completing a 91–73 a laugher at Patrick Keim Arena.
Player of the game easily had to be Jared Harper for a flawless second half. Check out this second-half bottom line from the diminutive point guard: 18 points, 4/4 FG, 3/3 3 PT, 6/6 FT, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Harper single handedly ended the Missouri Tigers’ chances of beating Auburn as he led all Auburn scorers and tied the game’s leading scorer with 21. Bryce Brown and Desean Murray added 16 apiece with Brown shooting 3–6 from beyond the arc while Murray was a perfect 6–6 from the free throw line. As if that wasn’t enough, Anfernee McLemore swatted six shots. The Auburn Tigers denied a total of nine shots.
The 91 points pushed Auburn further ahead as the SEC’s top scoring unit, thanks to terrific offensive rebounding and being fourth in the conference in three-point shooting. However, the Tigers are doing something that all great teams must do, especially on the road: hit free-throws. Auburn is the best in the SEC, hitting 78 percent.
Up next is an LSU team clinging to life (12–7 overall, 3–4 SEC) and desperately trying to right the ship. To do so, they must come to The Jungle on a Saturday evening. While it would be easy to label this a trap game, there should be a raucous crowd and a team looking to get an extra game up in the SEC race. ESPN gives LSU only a 17 percent chance to win. LSU has lost three of its last four games, winning only against Texas A&M. However, the purple tigers have won several tough road games, so don’t expect them to lay down for Auburn.
Tremont Waters leads LSU with 15 points per game. The freshman guard from Connecticut will draw coverage from Bryce Brown. He isn’t a perimeter player but does well getting to the basket and making free throws, averaging 80 percent of his attempts. The real showdown will be Anfernee McLemore on Duop Reath; McLemore is an undersized forward with incredible athleticism, Reath is a 6′ 11″ big man without much range.
Tune in at 5:00 PM on the SEC Network or head to the game. Catch me on Twitter @Best5Zach as I live tweet in-game action.
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