Jared Harper (above) led all scorers in the game.
Birmingham, Ala.--Prior to taking a break for fall semester final exams Auburn's three freshmen starters passed their first true road test as Auburn defeated UAB 74-70 on Saturday night at Bartow Arena.
Freshman point guard Jared Harper scored 21 points for the Tigers, who improved to 6-1. He made five of Auburn’s 11 three-pointers while contributing five rebounds and three assists.
Freshman forward Danjel Purifoy scored 16 points while adding five rebounds for the Tigers while helping spark Auburn's second half run.
Freshman guard Mustapha Heron contributed 11 points and a game-high seven rebounds for the Tigers.
“We got great point guard play tonight,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Jared Harper and Ronnie Johnson both played terrific.” Johnson came off the bench to make 4-5 field goals and score eight points in 14 minutes.
“We did not play well in the first half,” Pearl said. “We were very fortunate to be in range. I think UAB probably went into the locker room at halftime going, ‘gosh, we are only up by three.’ They out-played us, they defended us and our freshmen, with the exception of Jared Harper, looked like freshmen. Then in the second half we played pretty well.”
Pearl said that Purifoy’s three three-pointers in the second half were a major factor in the Auburn victory.
A Purifoy trey at the 14:32 mark put the Tigers up 45-44 and the Tigers took the lead for good with 13:34 remaining at 48-47 on a jump shot by T.J. Dunans followed by a three by Purifoy.
Danjel Purifoy shoots vs. the Blazers.
The Tigers built the lead to 66-55 on a layup by Heron at the 6:31 mark and then hit free throws in the closing minutes to hold on for the victory. Harper made 3-4 at the foul late in the game and Purifoy hit both of his chances.
“It was a great game,” said Harper. “We prepared well for our first road game and we stayed together,” he said.
Harper noted that he had not been pleased with his shooting in recent games and had been working on that aspect of his game. “My teammates got me the ball and I was able to make some shots,”?he said.
Pearl noted that associate head coach Chuck Person helped Harper make an adjustment with his free throw motion in pre-game warmups.
Senior T.J. Dunans, who won praise from Pearl for his play off the bench, said good defense in the second half helped the Tigers rally for the win. “We just had to play hard and crash the boards and we did that,” Dunans pointed out. “The coaches talked to me about coming in and bringing a lot of energy and I tried to do that.”
Dunans hit 3-7 shots and scored six points in 19 minutes while adding three assists, two steals and two rebounds.
Auburn hit 24-59 field goals (41.7 percent), 11-27 threes (41.7 percent) and 15-22 free throws.
The Blazers hit 23-53 shots (43.4 percent) and 4-20 threes while making 20-27 free throws.
Junior forward William Lee scored a team-high 13 points for the Blazers, who dropped to 4-4 after losing to Auburn for a second year in a row and a fourth time in the series.
The Blazers led much of the first half, building as much as a seven-point advantage. Auburn’s largest lead in the opening half was three points.
Harper carried the Tigers offensively in the first 20 minutes with 15 points as he made five of seven three-point shots.
The Blazers built their lead by hitting 11-22 field goals and 13-15 foul shots. Auburn was 11-32 from the field and 3-4 free throws. UAB out-rebounded the Tigers 21-12 in the half, but turned the ball over nine times, four more than the Tigers.
For the game UAB out-rebounded the Tigers 41-30, but turned the ball over 15 times, five more than the visitors.
Harper said the players noted the big turnout of Auburn fans, noting it seemed like half of the crowd was cheering for the Tigers.
“I want to thank all of the Auburn fans,” Pearl said. “It was a significant turnout.”
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn outscored the Blazers 19-10 in points off of turnovers, which helped negate a 36-22 advantage for the Blazers in points in the paint.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Auburn held UAB’s leading scorer, Chris Cokley, to eight points on 3-7 shooting.
Stat of the Game: Auburn improved its shooting from 34.4 percent in the first half to 48.1 percent in the second period while holding UAB to 38.7 percent in the second half after the Blazers hit 50 percent of their first half shots.
Up Next: The Tigers are off until Dec. 12th when they will travel to New York City to play Boston College in a game at Madison Square Garden as part of the Under Armour Reunion.