Uncasville, Conn.--Freshman point guard Jared Harper scored 21 points while senior guard T.J. Dunans came off the bench to match that total on his birthday as the Auburn basketball Tigers defeated Oklahoma 74-70 on Wednesday night.
Coach Bruce Pearl’s team improved its record to 9-2, Auburn's best start since the 2007-2008 season, with a third consecutive win in a contest they led almost the entire way. Oklahoma, a Final Four team last year, dropped to 6-5.
“It’s a great win for our program,” said Pearl, who noted that he liked his team’s defense and effort on the boards, but didn’t like the shooting (44.0 percent) or 23 turnovers, almost double the team’s season average.
Harper hit 11-12 free throws and came through at the foul line late in the game when Oklahoma was fouling to try to come back. Dunans did his damage from the field, making 8-14 field goals while adding four rebounds and five assists. Dunans also hit key baskets in both halves.
“I give T.J. Dunans credit,”?Pearl said. “He was a very calming influence.”
Commenting on his point guard, Pearl said, “He got there (to the foul line) late and he converted. We need for Jared to play that aggressively to beat a team like Oklahoma.”
Dunans noted the game was very physical. “It was a battlefield,” he said. “We were getting hit on every play. I have scratches.
“Everybody is happy and excited to get this win, to pull this win out,” Dunans said. “We played together as a team so it is real good in the locker room right now.”
Mustapha Heron, playing in front of friends and family in his home state, scored 15 points while adding a game high 12 rebounds helping the Tigers to a 45-41 advantage on the boards. “He only got to the foul line four times, but I think he got fouled a ton,” said Pearl, who added that the freshman from Waterbury, Conn., had a great game defensively and on the boards.
Mustapha Heron had a big rebounding night for the Tigers.
Heron, who led his Sacred Heart High team to three consecutive state championships, had his own cheering section at the game on Wednesday. "I had a lot of fun playing at home," he said. "Just going out there and seeing the crowd and all of my supporters from high school. It was fun, and it was exciting and we got a great win.”
The Tigers led for 14 minutes and 21 seconds in the opening half despite Danjel Purifoy getting in early foul trouble and playing just four minutes without scoring or grabbing a rebound. He finished the game with six points and seven rebounds.
Dunans, coming off the bench to hit 5-8 field goals in the half, sparked the Tigers to a 34-22 lead at intermission by scoring 13 points Auburn did not trail in the second half.
The Tigers used 10 players in the opening period as they 11-28 field goals (39.3 percent), 4-13 threes and 8-8 foul shots.
The Sooners hit just 8-34 field goals (23.5 percent) and were 1-9 on threes and 5-8 at the foul line in the first half. Each team finished the half with 22 rebounds while Auburn turned the ball over nine times, one more than the Sooners.
Auburn built their lead to as many as 17 points on a three-pointer by Purifoy at the 16:41 mark to make the score 45-28. The Sooners then made a strong run, cutting the lead to 47-44 at the 10:31 mark. However, the Tigers weathered the storm and built the margin back into double figures at 58-46. After that they hit free throws to ice the victory.
For the game the Tigers hit 8-22 threes and 22-29 free throws. Oklahoma, which shot 31.9 percent from the field, hit 5-17 threes and 19-26 free throws. The Sooners finished with 14 turnovers.
Bruce Pearl shows his displeasure with a call by the game officials.
"We just scraped together enough offense," Pearl said. "The 23 turnovers was awful, but boy, that defense and rebounding carried us. Defense and rebounding wins championships."
Worth Noting, Part 1: For a third straight game Horace Spencer and Bryce Brown did not play. They were in uniform, unlike the previous two games when they were suspended.
Worth Noting, Part 2: In his second Auburn game center Austin Wiley started. He finished with six points and three rebounds while playing 18 minutes.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Auburn started freshmen in Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron, Jared Harper and Austin Wiley. The last time the Tigers started four freshmen was on Feb. 18, 2006 in a 65-61 loss to LSU. That group included Korvotney Barber, Josh Dollard, Rasheem Barrett and Quantez Robertson in a game at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.
Stat of the Game: Auburn pulled in 45 rebounds to finish plus four in that category. Coming into the game the Tigers were minus 4.5 per game in rebound margin while Oklahoma was plus 3.6.
Up Next: The Tigers will take on the UConn Huskies at 1:30 p.m. on Friday in Hartford, Conn. The game will be televised on ESPN2.