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Tiger Trio: Harper's heroics, taking a punch, rising RPI
Junior guard Bryce Brown knocked down three three-points shots. As a team, Auburn finished 12 of 27 from beyond the arc in Tuesday night's win at Murray State. Photo: Dave Winder/Murray State Athletics
Dec. 20, 2017

By Greg Ostendorf

MURRAY, Ky. -- It took some late-game heroics, but Auburn left Murray State with an 81-77 win Tuesday night, its second true road victory of the season.

The Tigers were led by junior Desean Murray, who finished with a team-high 18 points and nine rebounds, but he was one of four players to score in double figures as Auburn has now won eight straight games for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday's game.

1. Mr. Clutch

Murray might have led Auburn in scoring, but it was sophomore point guard Jared Harper who took over down the stretch.

With just over four minutes remaining, Murray State made a free throw to take the lead in what had been a highly competitive second half. That's when Harper went to work. He knocked down a three-point shot to put the Tigers back up two. Then after a Murray State basket that tied it, he made another one from distance, and then another.

A hand in his face? It didn't matter. Four feet behind the three-point arc? It didn't matter. Harper hit back-to-back-to-back shots from distance and added two free throws late to help Auburn go from down one to up eight in a matter of minutes.

"I've always had the confidence to make plays late in the game," Harper said after the game. "I've spent a lot of time in the gym. I trust myself and my teammates trust me."

It was no different at the end of the first half. Murray State made a dunk that cut the Auburn lead to three and got the crowd off its feet only to have Harper drain a three-point shot as he was fouled. He'd complete the four-point play, giving the Tigers back the momentum.

2. Early response

For a team that has started fast in just about every game this season, Auburn found itself in unchartered territory when Murray State jumped out to a 12-2 lead.

But the Tigers didn't panic. The shots that weren't falling in the first five minutes began to fall, and it started with Malik Dunbar. The junior-college transfer came off the bench and hit three straight shots from long range to cut the lead to five. Then it was Bryce Brown who hit a couple three-point shots, and then Mustapha Heron made a couple tough buckets inside.

Auburn, who had just four points in the first seven minutes, scored 18 points in a span of four minutes and went on a 25-8 run to erase that early 10-point deficit.

"For the first time all year, I don't know that we were ready," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "Murray State came out and hit us right in the mouth. A lesser-character team could've folded, and we didn't.

"Having the Middle Tennessee game in Birmingham and having UConn on Saturday, this could've been a trap game. Our kids absolutely respected Murray State's coaches, players and what they do. If you walk into our locker room, they'll tell you how great of a win that was."

3. Rising RPI

Despite a 10-1 start, Auburn has yet to receive much love nationally this season. However, following Tuesday's win, the Tigers jumped to No. 26 in ESPN's Daily RPI and No. 31 in the NCAA RPI rankings. They also received votes for the AP Top 25 for the first time this week.

Beating Middle Tennessee State on a neutral court over the weekend made some noise, and though Murray State might not be as talented, it's significant anytime you can go on and road and notch a victory. The Tigers have now won true road games at Dayton and Murray State this season, and they're 3-1 in neutral-site games.

Auburn will close out the non-conference slate at home with games against UConn on Saturday and Cornell the week after. Then it's on to SEC play.

Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter:



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