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Auburn coach Bruce Pearl is harping on a major concern for his defense heading into the Missouri game.

Auburn basketball’s Achilles heel could trip Tigers at hot-shooting Missouri

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For all of the success Auburn basketball has had on the defensive end of the floor this season — a major turnaround from last season — the Tigers still lag in one key area.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, their next opponent does a great job of taking advantage of that deficiency.

Auburn ranks 145th nationally in 3-point field-goal defense at 34.5 percent. That’s a slight improvement from last season, but it’s still the Tigers’ biggest problem area. It’s also a number Bruce Pearl doesn’t like.

“Our 3-point percentage defense is not very good,” Pearl said Monday. “I think that has to do with some of our size. Teams that shoot open 3s tend to make them. When they get contested 3s, either because of length or things like that, they tend to miss them.”

That issue has been magnified in Auburn’s toughest games. In both of its losses this season — against Temple and Alabama — Auburn allowed 10 made 3-pointers.

Other tough matchups that Auburn won featured similar numbers. George Mason hit 12 in a game in which Auburn had to come from behind. Middle Tennessee hit 11 of its 22 attempts from deep in a close loss to the Tigers. More recently, Georgia went 5 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half against Auburn, and it took a furious comeback by the Tigers to secure the victory.

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Missouri, which hosts Auburn on Wednesday (9 p.m., SEC Network), is built to take advantage of weak 3-point defense. The Tigers have a trio of shooters in Jordan Barnett, Kassius Robertson and Jordan Geist who all shoot better than 40 percent from deep. Barnett has hit 45 3-pointers this season and Robertson has hit 55 at an impressive 45-percent clip.

An undersized Auburn team not only gives up length in the post, it also does the same on the perimeter. As Pearl says, it’s harder to contest 3-point opportunities with shorter players such as 5-foot-10 point guard Jared Harper and 6-3 power forward Desean Murray.

Missouri can be streaky from beyond the arc. The Tigers shot less than 20 percent in losses to Utah and Illinois this season. But during an eight-game stretch in which it won seven games, Missouri shot at least 40 percent from 3-point range.

Cuonzo Martin’s team will try to create mismatches with its size. If Auburn collapses too much inside to defend the paint, a battle-tested Missouri could get the open looks it wants from deep.

“They’ve lost once at home to Florida at the buzzer,” Pearl said. “They’ve played a very tough schedule. They’re really good. They’re big, they’re deep, they’re picked really high in our league — they’re one of the better ball-screen teams that I’ve seen, and they shoot the 3 really well.”

If Auburn allows Missouri to get hot from deep in front of its own fans, it could suffer the same fate as last week, when John Petty shot Alabama to an upset win.