Jared Harper (above) prepares to shoot a foul shot.
Cancun, Mexico-- Auburn held off a late run by Texas Tech to stay unbeaten with a 67-65 basketball victory on Tuesday at the Cancun Challenge.
The game came down to the closing seconds after Auburn freshman Jared Harper made one of two free throws with 11.9 seconds remaining.
Graduate transfer LaRon Smith saved the day for the Tigers with a blocked shot in the closing seconds allowing the Tigers to improve to 4-0. He swatted away a drive to the basket field goal attempt by 6-8 forward Aaron Ross to prevent the game from going into overtime.
“I figured he would throw something up because he had been making his shots all day so I went for it,” Smith said of his block.
The Tigers will play again on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. CST in the championship game vs. 17th-ranked Purdue, an 85-64 winner over Utah State. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
Freshman guard Mustapha Heron led the Tigers in scoring with 15 points. He hit 6-12 field goals, including 3-6 three-pointers.
Redshirt freshman forward Danjel Purifoy scored 11 points and added six rebounds. He hit 4-11 field goals and 2-5 threes.
Freshman guard Jared Harper scored 10 points. He was 2-5 from the field and 6-10 at the foul line.
T.J Dunans chipped in with nine points and a team-high six rebounds. Horace Spencer also scored nine points while adding four rebounds.
Auburn never trailed and led by as many as 19 points at the 16:15 mark on a stuff by Dunans on a backdoor cut. However, after that point the Red Raiders became the more aggressive team.
“It was a great win for our program, a great win for our kids,” said Coach Bruce Pearl, who predicted that Texas Tech will be an NCAA Tournament team. However, he said the Tigers contributed to the comeback.
“I thought we stopped guarding in the second half,” he said. “You look at their field goal percentage (48.3 percent in the second half) and the fact they got to the free throw line (10-11 in the second) half.
“You, know I would rather learn and win than learn and lose,” the coach added. “We about learned and lost.”
Pearl added, “That was a big win for the league now. That might be one of the best wins the SEC has had so far.”
Auburn jumped to an early 10-3 lead thanks to good defense. The Tigers held the Red Raiders to 33 percent shooting in the opening half.
With Auburn on top 23-19 the Tigers scored 11 uncontested points to build the lead to 15 points at the 4:15 mark on a free throw by Spencer.
Spencer scored nine points in the first half while Heron led the Tigers with 10.
Auburn shot 43.8 percent in the opening half and hit 5-13 three-pointers. The Tigers hit 5-6 free throws and the Red Raiders made 4-6.
A key first half statistic was Auburn out-rebounding Texas Tech 20-14. However, for the game Texas Tech held a 37-34 advantage.
The Red Raiders cut the lead under double figures with a 10-3 run to narrow the margin to 53-45. A Heron three built the margin to 12 at 61-49 with 5:54 to play, but after that the Tigers scored just five points.
The Red Raiders cut the margin to two points with 32 seconds left. Harper then made one of two free throws to make the lead three before a layup by Devon Thomas with 17 seconds left cut the lead to 66-65. Harper again made one of two foul shots setting up Smith's blocked shot to preserve the win. The Auburn senior blocked the ball back to near midcourt. A desperation, off-balance three-point shot to beat the buzzer wasn't close and the Red Raiders fell to 3-1 for the season.
Mustapha Heron led the Tigers in scoring with 15 points.
“Texas Tech is one of the oldest teams in the country so this is a great win to start off 4-0,” said Heron. “Hopefully, we will win tomorrow and get better every single day.”
Both teams shot an identical 41.1 percent from the field. Auburn was 8-26 on threes and 13-20 at the foul line. Texas Tech was 5-19 on threes and 14-17 at the foul line.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn is 4-0 for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The Tigers ended a six-game losing streak to Big 12 teams that dated back to the 1999 NCAA Tournament.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Heron and Purifoy are the first Auburn freshmen to score in double digits in their first four college games since Wesley Person did it in his first 14 in 1990-91.
Stat of the Game: The Tigers outscored Texas Tech 23-5 in points off of turnovers.