Photo by Jason Caldwell

Bruce Pear's Tigers Pick Up A Program-Boosting Basketball Victory Vs. Kentucky

Auburn earned its first victory vs. a ranked team in the Bruce Pearl Era with a 75-70 win vs. Kentucky.

Kareem Canty (above) led all scorers in Auburn's victory over the Wildcats.

Auburn, Ala.--Strong second-half shooting, including six three-pointers on 10 attempts, sparked a rally from 12 points down as the Auburn Tigers defeated Kentucky 75-70 on Saturday in front of a raucous basketball crowd at Auburn Arena.

With Kareem Canty leading the charge with 26 points and Tyler Harris scoring 21 and pulling in 11 rebounds, Auburn ended a three-game losing streak and evened its record at 8-8 for the season while improving to 2-3 in league.

Kentucky, which was ranked 13th and 14th nationally, dropped to 13-4 overall and 3-2 in the league after suffering its first loss to the Tigers since a No. 4 ranked Auburn team defeated the Wildcats, who were ranked 20th for that game, back in 2000.

“I think a lot of guys played for the name on the front of the jersey,” said Auburn’s second-year coach, Bruce Pearl, whose team ended an 18-game Kentucky winning streak in the series.

Pearl said the victory means more than just a win in the conference standings. “It gives us the hope,” he said. “It does help in recruiting. It does send a message to a lot of really good prospects who are signed and committed that it warrants their belief in what we can do.” The victory came a day after the coach announced that point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen is out for the season with his shoulder injury and another key player, guard T.J. Dunans, may not be back this season either as he recovers from a knee injury.

Auburn outscored UK 45-35 in the second half to pull off the win. In the period the Tigers hit 12-23 field goals (52.2 percent while holding the Wildcats to 11-35 (34.7 percent) shooting.”

With 15:41 to play the Wildcats led by a dozen points, but an 18-4 Auburn run excited the Tigers and the standing room only crowd of 9,121.

“I challenged our character to stay together and continue to believe,” Pearl said about the victory, noting the team had two very good practices after its road loss to Vandy. “It was a great team win.”

Canty, who helped spark the second half run, said, “My teammates told me to get it on. I just had to calm down. I was just too anxious to beat them. After I calmed down everything was alright.”

Canty played 39 minutes and hit 7-20 field goals, including 5-12 threes, while adding four assists.

Harris hit 6-11 field goals and was 3-3 on threes. The forward made 6-8 free throws, including a pair with 34 seconds remaining that put the Tigers up by five points.

“It was just a great feeling,” Harris said when asked about hitting the free throws with the game on the line.

“This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to come here and have upsets against teams like this,” said Harris, a graduate student transfer from Providence. “I just want to continue to help the program and lead the team to more victories.

“I always wanted to go to a place where we could win big and help change the program around,” added Harris, who posted his seventh double-double of the season. “A win like this is a stepping stone for where we want to get to and what is to come.”

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Tyler Harris was productive on the perimeter vs. Kentucky.

The Tigers still had work to do after the free throws by Harris. Jamal Murray hit a three-pointer with 13 seconds left to cut the lead to four points. After Canty missed two free throws, Bowers pulled a rebound with four seconds left and was fouled. He hit one free throw to make the final margin five points. 

“We just came together as a unit,” said Bowers when asked how the Tigers pulled off the victory. The senior forward scored eight points and added 10 rebounds, but had six of his team’s 13 turnovers.

After Bowers made his final free throw, he said it was fun to celebrate on the court with the students who ran onto the floor. “That was crazy--I had never experienced that,” he said. “It feels great. We have good fans. I really appreciate them.”

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Cinmeon Bowers celebrates in the closing seconds.

Kentucky got 20 points from Jamal Murray plus 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists from talented point guard Tyler Ulis. The Wildcats used their size to out-rebound the Tigers 48-38 and had 11 turnovers, two fewer than the Tigers.

However, for the game Kentucky hit just 34.7 percent of its field goals while Auburn made 38.2 percent. Auburn doubled UK in three-pointers made. Auburn hit 12-26 while the Wildcats made 6-18. Auburn was 21-31 at the foul line while UK made 14-18.

Halftime Numbers: Auburn led just 4:02 of the first half and trailed 35-30 at the break, which was the largest lead of the half for the Wildcats. The Tigers hit 9-32 (28.1 percent) first half field goals, 6-16 threes and 6-10 free throws while trailing 27-22 in rebounds. UK hit 14-37 (37.8 percent) field goals, 3-7 threes, 4-7 threes and turned the ball over six times, one less than the Tigers.

After a pair of Ulis free throws put UK up 47-35 with 15:41 to play, the Tigers went to work on both ends of the court. A layup by Bowers started the comeback and a trey by Canty at the 9:54 mark put the Tigers ahead 53-51.

The game stayed close the rest of the way before the Tigers pulled off the victory. Kentucky was the highest ranked team Auburn has defeated since knocking off SEC champion and No. 11 ranked LSU on March 7, 2009.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Fans celebrate Auburn's victory over the Wildcats.

“We have great fans at home and they helped us win the game,” said Harris, who added. “This is a great feeling.”

UK coach John Calipari said, "You've got to give Auburn credit now. Those kids got down 12 and never stopped. They made big plays and free throws down the stretch."

Worth Noting, Part 1: Bruce Pearl’s record improved to 13-18 vs. Top 15 teams.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Five-star Auburn verbal commitment, Austin Wiley from Spain Park High in Birmingham, attended the game. Another class of 2017 prospect the Tigers are heavily recruiting, power forward Alex Reese from Pelham High, also attended the game.

Worth Noting, Part 3:  The 12-point deficit is the largest one Auburn has overcome in a victory this season.

Worth Noting, Part 4: The Tigers held UK to 34.7 (25-of-72) percent shooting from the field, the lowest percentage Auburn has held an SEC opponent to since the Tigers held Kentucky to 17-55 (30.9 percent) on Feb. 12, 2014.

Worth Noting, Part 5: UK assistant coach and former Auburn head coach Tony Barbee was a no-show at the arena. UK coach John Calipari said Barbee was on a recruiting assignment.

Stat of the Game: Harris was 3-3 on three-pointers. “That is something I work on every day and something I was born to do,” he said.

Up Next: The Tigers will be back in action at 8 p.m. CST on Tuesday at Auburn Arena vs. Alabama.

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