Though Missouri had won only five games before Tuesday evening, getting a win in Mizzou Arena was never going to be easy for Auburn.
Auburn traveled to Columbia without freshman forward Danjel Purifoy, a scoring and rebounding leader this season. It didn’t help matters when two key freshmen, Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore, got into early foul trouble.
Missouri controlled the boards and tried to chip away at small leads Auburn gained throughout the night. But better nights from sophomores Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer, who struggled after serving a two-game suspension earlier this season, saved Auburn, which prevailed 77-72.
Ahead of its road matchup with Kentucky, the Tigers picked up their first (and much-needed) SEC win of 2016-17.
Co-players of the game
Horace Spencer and Mustapha Heron
Horace Spencer had one of his best games of the season. The sophomore was one of Auburn’s only post players who wasn’t immediately in foul trouble (freshman center Austin Wiley picked up his fourth early in the second half) and it paid dividends.
To go along with his two blocked shots, Spencer scored 10 points and was perfect from the floor (5-for-5). The 6-foot-8 center tied his season high with 5 rebounds. Though typically it’s Spencer who shows frustration, instead he was the one bothering his opponents on Tuesday night.
Mustapha Heron didn’t dominate, but once again, Auburn wouldn’t have been in the game without him.
The freshman guard finished with 16 points after a late scoring surge and he was a primary reason Bruce Pearl’s team wasn’t embarrassed on the boards. During the first half, Missouri snatched a dozen offensive rebounds while Auburn was held to one. Without Heron grabbing 9 boards (3 offensive), Auburn would have been in trouble on the road.
Stat line of the game
Bryce Brown: 13 points (4-of-8 3FG)
Bruce Pearl has been frank when Bryce Brown’s name has come up.
The sophomore got off to a hot start, leading Auburn to a win in its home opener (19 points, 5-for-10 3FG) against North Florida. Since then, however, Brown has been the definition of a sophomore slump. Despite being one of the Tigers’ best shooters, Brown struggled to get time after serving a two-game suspension and also to connect from downtown.
However, things started looking up for Brown in the first half at Mizzou Arena. He hit three first-half 3-pointers — it was the first time he’d hit more than one deep attempt since Auburn’s win over Texas Tech at the end of November — to keep Auburn on Missouri’s heels at the break.
Brown had his best night since Auburn’s first regular-season game in early November. If the second-year guard can continue to get his footing back from behind the arc (without forcing it), his scoring contributions will be a huge help to Auburn through the rest of conference play.
Up next for Auburn basketball
Conference play has been hard on the Tigers and it won’t get easier this weekend. Bruce Pearl’s team will travel to Lexington, Ky., for its toughest test yet in the form of the Kentucky Wildcats.
To this point, the teams Auburn has battled have had one or two (maybe three) serious threats — and usually just on one end of the floor. Though John Calipari usually only plays seven people, every Wildcat is deserving of attention (it’s part of why UK has only lost to UCLA and at Louisville).
Freshmen guards Malik Monk (21.9 ppg) and De’Aaron Fox (16.3 ppg) lead the way, but Edrice ‘Bam’ Adebayo (13.1 points, 7.3 rebounds per game) offers a completely different challenge down low. The Tigers will have to be as ferocious and prepared as they’ve been all year to have a chance to win in Rupp Arena.