AUBURN, Ala. — Bruce Pearl hasn’t always started his seniors for his teams’ final home games throughout his coaching career.
The head coach did so Saturday, as Auburn played its last regular season game against Missouri, and it seemed to do the trick.
Pearl’s squad came out energized and constructed an early lead by shooting nearly 70 percent from the floor through the first half. Mustapha Heron (who missed only one of his 7 shot attempts in the game) was a big part of that, but he wasn’t Missouri’s only problem.
Senior guard T.J. Dunans frazzled Missouri’s guards and forced tone-setting turnovers early. LaRon Smith followed Dunans’ lead, swatting a couple of shots down low, while point guard Ronnie Johnson chased down rebounds and converted mid-range jumpers.
While there were moments in the second half where the home Tigers got sloppy on the offensive end, the game was never really in question for Auburn.
Pearl’s team outmatched Missouri on the boards and in the paint, earning a much-needed win to finish off regular season action.
Player of the game
Mustapha Heron 20 points (6-for-7 FG, 3-for-3 3-point FG), 3 rebounds, 3 assists
Heron has been Auburn’s most consistent player since he stepped on the floor at the beginning of the year. The freshman wasn’t just solid against Missouri, though — he was nearly perfect.
Heron did virtually whatever he wanted to do on Saturday. He was effective whether he was slashing to the rim, attempting a mid-range jumper or stepping out behind the 3-point line.
Missouri’s undersized guards struggled to keep up with Heron, who almost averaged a point for every minute that he was on the floor.
Senior day stat lines
T.J. Dunans: 16 points (6-for-11 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals
Dunans had some memorable moments this season and showcased several different pieces of his game in his final home performance.
The senior literally jump-started Auburn with a steal and a monstrous slam early in the opening minutes and was a spark on both ends of the floor later in the game. He threw in some acrobatic drives for good measure, too.
Ronnie Johnson: 6 points (3-for-10 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists
Johnson was one of Auburn’s most important players this season and true to form, he, too, did a little bit of everything in his finale.
Though Johnson was around for only one season, the connection he established with Auburn’s young players was key. He tossed up several assists to his post players for alley-oops and hurt Missouri when he attacked the rim on offense.
While he wasn’t as effective as he’s been at times, Johnson’s rebounding numbers (6) and assists (3) showed how he made his contribution in his relatively short stay on the Plains.
What’s next for Auburn basketball
After weeks of looking ahead, it’s finally tournament time for the Tigers. Auburn will travel to Nashville, Tenn., for the start of SEC Tournament play on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).
By completing a sweep Missouri, Auburn earned itself a Music City matchup against Missouri.
Beating the same team twice in a season is tricky, but notching back-to-back wins in March will be even tougher. At one point Auburn was up by 20 points on Mizzou in Auburn Arena, but the visiting Tigers continued to cut into the lead in the second half.
Every play will matter as Auburn tries to determine its postseason fate.