By Charles Goldberg
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Not even teammate Mustapha Heron could calculate just how hot Jared Harper was Saturday night.
"He went off. Four 3s in the first half, I think."
Make it five 3s in the first half.
"That's a spark right there," Heron said. "That uplifted us."
And it helped Auburn beat UAB 74-70 in front of 8,728 fans in Bartow Arena. The Tigers hit 11 of their 27 3-point attempts, including those five from Harper in the first half, and three from Danjel Purifoy in the second half. Harper led Auburn with a career-high 21 points. Purifoy added 16 and Heron scored 11.
Auburn improved to 6-1, winning its first true road game of the season.
"It's a great start," Heron said, "and the good thing about it is we're not at our peak yet."
Harper kept Auburn close in the first half, then Purifoy got the hot hand with consecutive 3s as Auburn went on a 7-0 run to take a 53-47 lead with 11:57 remaining. The Tigers were shooting 59 percent in the second half when it led 66-55.
"Danjel Purifoy really stepped up," said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl.
And so did Harper and fellow guard Ronnie Johnson.
"We got great point guard play tonight. Jared Harper and Ronnie Johnson both played terrific," Pearl said.
"He and Ronnie have a really good thing going. That's the best Jared has played. I told you he was going to be worth the price of admission. He is."
Pearl also said T.J. Dunans "came off the bench and was a real factor."
It was a tight game in the first half, and again late. Auburn hit 3s, sure enough, but UAB countered with dunks for a 37-33 halftime lead. Auburn led by 11 with 6:30 remaining. UAB closed the gap in the final minute.
A good portion of the Bartow Arena fans cheered for Auburn, and they roared as the 3-pointers found their mark. Pearl said he was thankful for the Auburn turnout.
"That's significant," he said. "That's when a program starts to become a program. Everybody talks about the recruiting or the coaching, when you start traveling a couple of thousand fans on the road like that... We weren't alone here tonight."
"They gave us energy," Harper said.
Pearl called the game "just a great environment for college basketball in Birmingham, Alabama on the day the SEC Championship Game was played.
"It was a significant turnout. It's been since 1998 since Auburn played in Birmingham, and that's just too long.
"It's the right thing to do. We've got a good series going and we're going to keep that series. Next year they'll come to Auburn and the following year we'll come back to the BJCC."
It was the 19th meeting between the state schools, though just the second since 1999. It was Pearl who agreed to renew the series last season. He's 2-0 against the Blazers since.
Neither win was easy. Auburn beat the Blazers 75-74 in last year's season-opener. Saturday's game was tight down the stretch as well.
"Our fans definitely helped us tonight," Heron said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine