By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Mustapha Heron was perfect from the floor, and was pretty darn good most everywhere else Thursday night.
The Auburn freshman guard hit all eight of his shots from the floor and had a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds to help the Tigers stop pesky Eastern Kentucky 85-64 in Auburn Arena.
It wasn't all easy. Eastern Kentucky led most of the first half before Auburn took a 37-34 halftime lead. Auburn led 52-50, then the Tigers got hot.
"I think Mustapha started it off," said coach Bruce Pearl. "We got him the ball and posted him up a couple of times and he big-boyed them. That's what he's supposed to do."
Heron didn't do it alone. Fellow freshman Danjel Purifoy scored 16 points and had eight rebounds, and graduate transfer Ronnie Johnson added 13 points while scoring the 1,000th point of his career.
The Tigers improved to 3-0 for the second time in the last 12 years before heading off to Mexico for the Cancun Classic next week.
"Our defense continues to carry us," Pearl said.
Eastern Kentucky shot 32.8 percent, and only 28.9 percent in the second half. Auburn outrebounded the Colonels 51-31.
"I thought the physicality of Ronnie Johnson, Anfernee McLemore and Mustapha Heron...made the difference. Our most physical players stepped up," Pearl said.
Auburn hit five of seven shots during a second-half run to finally get some breathing room, at 55-48 with 11:09 remaining.
The first half was anything but that.
Auburn started slowing, hitting only two of its first 14 shots.
Eastern Kentucky led 17-12 with 11:21 left in the first half. The Tigers were shooting a cool 26 percent overall, and 13 percent from 3-point line, when Eastern Kentucky led 22-19.
But Auburn went on a 9-0 run to take a 37-32 lead. Eastern hit a shot at the halftime buzzer to make it 37-34.
Purifoy was already hot by then with 13 points and six rebounds in the first half. The Colonels countered 16 3-point attempts, and 13 2-point attempts, in the first half.
Eastern Kentucky fell to 1-2.
Auburn plays Texas Tech on Tuesday in Cancun, then will play either No. 15 Purdue or Utah State next Wednesday.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine