Missouri Escapes With 70-68 Victory at AU

Auburn had its chances to knock off a nationally-ranked team, but didn't make key plays down the stretch.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's defense held 21st-ranked Missouri to 32.7 percent shooting, but that wasn't enough for the Tigers to pull off an upset in their SEC home opener on Saturday as the visitors held on for a 70-68 basketball victory at Auburn Arena.

The visitors got an amazing amount of help from the officiating crew of Mike Nance, Lee Cassell and C.J. Washington, who sent Mizzou to the line 41 times in the game, 15 more than the home team. To say many of their officiating decisions were suspect would be an understatement.

Auburn hurt its own cause by not hitting its opportunities at the foul line, making just 53.8 of those shots while Mizzou hit 75.6.

The free throw numbers, combined with a 44-28 rebounding advantage for the visitors, were keys in putting Missouri over the top. That overcame Auburn shooting better from the field (43.4 percent) than Missouri and making eight threes to five for the visitors. Auburn also had five fewer turnovers than Mizzou, which finished with 15.

"We got crushed on the backboard," Barbee said. "I thought that was where the game was won and lost in the trenches.

"I thought defensively we played a great game," the coach said.

"I thought offensively we executed fairly well shooting 54 percent in the second half, but when it matters most in those key moments your execution has to be at its highest, in those key moments, those last three or four possessions, our execution was at its lowest," the coach added.

Missouri's largest lead was six points with 7:26 to play. Auburn's largest lead of five points came with 3:12 left in the opening half. The visitors managed to win the game despite not making a field goal in the final five and one-half minutes.

Auburn moved ahead 67-66 with 1:51 left on a layup by Chris Denson. With 1:34 left Missouri regained the lead at 68-67 when former Auburn player Earnest Ross hit a pair of free throws. He finished 8-8 at the foul line and made 3-9 field goals while adding seven rebounds, one steal and three turnovers.

K.T. Harrell lost his balance on a short runner with 1:20 to play that was blocked by Ross, giving Missouri possession with the one-point edge.

Auburn got the ball back when freshman Alex Thompson took a charge with 1:03 left, but Denson missed a layup in traffic with 50 seconds to play. Missouri stretched the margin to 70-67 with two more free throws by Ross with 29 seconds left.

After a timeout the Tigers couldn't get a open look for a three-pointer and settled for a runner by Denson. He was fouled with five seconds left. He made the first shot and missed the second. Missouri's rebounder, Torren Jones, stepped out of bounds giving Auburn possession on the baseline with 2.9 seconds left.

Missouri tipped the in-bounds pass thrown by Tajh Shamsid-Deen and the ball went out of bounds as the officials declared the game over even though Auburn asked for one second to be put on the clock. The officials declined to look at a replay and left the arena to jeers from the crowd of 7,181.

Ross finished the game with 16 points for Missouri, second on his team behind 20 from Jordan Clarkson.

Chris Denson drives vs. Missouri.

Harrell led all scorers with 27 points. He hit 9-17 field goals and added five rebounds.

"It was a tough loss," Harrell said. "We played as hard as we possibly could. The little things beat us today. Rebounds and not making free throws hurt us towards the end of the game."

Shamsid-Deen scored 13 points as he hit 4-10 shots, including 3-7 on three-pointers. The freshman agreed with Harrell about a key to the loss. "We just have to knock down free throws," he said. "Ultimately, that is what decided the game at the end."

The SEC's leading scorer, Denson, finished the game with 11 points. He was 4-10 from the field, 0-2 on threes and really struggled at the foul line, making just 3-10 attempts.

Going back to last season it was a 12th straight SEC loss for Coach Tony Barbee, who resorted to a variety of different lineups trying to adjust to his team's foul trouble that started early in the first half. "We mix and match lineups all the time in practice," he said.

The Tigers played lineups with two centers, four guards and a forward and even two point guards on the court together.

Missouri coach Frank Haith said, "We showed great toughness. We played together through some adversity and foul trouble. I thought our guys really held their composure and made some big plays."

Halftime Stats: Missouri led 33-30 at the break thanks to making 15-20 free throws. Auburn was 10-17 at the line. Missouri also out-rebounded the Tigers 25-14 to overcome 30.8 percent shooting. Auburn hit 33.3 percent of its field goals and 4-14 threes while Missouri made 2-6 threes. AU had seven turnovers in the half, Missouri 10. Harrell led the Tigers in scoring with 13 points while Clarkson, Brown and Ross scored seven apiece for Mizzou.

Worth Noting, Part 1: Allen Payne, who suffered a leg injury at Ole Miss on Thursday, started the game but only played two minutes.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Sophomore forward Jordon Granger, who had been gone on a leave of absence, returned to action for the Tigers.

For the second time this year junior forward Chris Griffin was missing. Barbee issued a statement saying that Griffin has been suspended indefinitely. "Right now I am more interested in Chris the man than Chris the basketball player," said Barbee, who noted there is no timetable on Griffin's potential return to the team.

Worth Noting, Part 3: With the injury to Payne and the absence of Griffin, freshman Alex Thompson saw extensive action after previously playing in just five games with a total of 36 minutes of game time.

Thompson played 22 minutes and scored eight points on 3-4 shooting. He added two rebounds, one steal and was charged with four fouls. The invited walk-on from Houston Academy in Dothan earned praise from Barbee, who predicted that Thompson will contribute significantly to basketball for years to come.

The Tigers return to action with a 6 p.m. CST game on Wednesday at Tennessee.

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