Feb. 7, 2017
By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Bruce Pearl discovered the cure to Auburn's Tuesday troubles - 3-point shooting and a solid assist-to-turnover ratio - in the Tigers' 98-92 win over Mississippi State.
"It was a good win for us against a team that was ahead of us in the conference," Pearl said.
After sinking 15 3-pointers in Saturday's win at Alabama, the Tigers knocked down nine 3's in 22 attempts against the Bulldogs.
After hitting eight 3-pointers in the first half, Auburn looked inside in the second half, piling up assists on easy baskets by big men Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore. Auburn's nine dunks were a season high.
"Austin's got great feet and great hands," Pearl said. "He's got some stuff you cannot teach."
Mississippi State rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit, pulling within 5 in the final minute, but Auburn made enough free throws to secure the victory.
Bryce Brown led Auburn (16-8, 5-6) with 18. Wiley added 14. The 98 points were Auburn's most in a conference game since scoring 102 against Alabama in 1999.
"I felt like they were sagging off," Brown said. "I felt like that was a little disrespectful. Me, TJ Lang, Danjel, we all took advantage of that, and just knocked down the shots."
Brown credited his teammates, coaches and parents for his improved outside shooting.
"My dad passes the ball back and forth to me. My mom just held up a big broom, contesting the shot. So I had to shoot over (the broom), acting like it's a player blocking my shot."
Auburn dished out 22 assists, another season high in SEC play, while committing only 12 turnovers. Mississippi State, by contrast, had only 10 assists against 13 turnovers. Auburn scored 26 points off those turnovers.
After State got within 10 with 6:14 to play, Mustapha Heron hit a 3 to give Auburn a 79-66 lead.
Heron scored 15 of his 17 in the second half, extending his Auburn freshman record by reaching double figures for the 24th consecutive game. T.J. Dunans added 11.
In its previous midweek games, Auburn lost at South Carolina and home to Tennessee, erasing momentum earned days earlier with wins against Alabama and TCU.
Pearl spent much of the past two weeks tinkering with practice routines on Sunday and Monday to stop the midweek slump. This time, Auburn shortened its practices, going light on Sunday and hard on Monday.
"The guys are pretty locked in," Pearl said. "They're really paying attention to the scouts, asking questions. With a late game tonight, I thought they responded. Great effort, great energy."
Brown and TJ Lang hit their first six 3-point attempts - three each.
The guards took turns sinking 3's during an 8-0 run that gave Auburn a 13-7 lead.
Auburn made five consecutive 3's with Brown and Lang hitting again in a 9-0 run that put Auburn up 25-17.
McLemore blocked shots on successive possessions, leading to five points by Danjel Purifoy on a 3-pointer and two free throws to put Auburn up by 12.
Brown's fourth 3-pointer stretched the lead to 17, 38-21, in a 12-0 run.
Ronnie Johnson had six of Auburn's 11 assists in the half. McLemore blocked three shots in the first half. Johnson led Auburn with eight assists.
Quinndary Weatherspoon led Mississippi State (14-9, 5-6) with 25. The Tigers played a second straight game without Horace Spencer, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.
Auburn goes for its third straight win Saturday at 5 p.m. at Ole Miss. A victory would give the Tigers a .500 mark in SEC games.
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) February 8, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer