Hartford, Conn.--Auburn won a fourth straight basketball game, but had to go into overtime to do it, as the Tigers defeated the UConn Huskies, 70-67, on Friday at the XL Center.
Freshman point guard Jared Harper led the Tigers with a season-high 22 points plus five rebounds and five assists as the Tigers improved to 10-2.
Harper’s layup with 28 seconds left put the Tigers ahead for good as they survived a pair of three-point shots by the Huskies in the closing seconds.
Trailing 67-64 the Tigers pulled even with 1:04 left in overtime when freshman Danjel Purifoy made his first field goal of the game following nine misses. The forward’s three from the wing was huge for the Tigers as were his 15 rebounds as the Tigers out-rebounded the Huskies 51-46 to help overcome a poor shooting performance.
Auburn managed to hit just 25-76 (32.9 percent) of its shots and was 5-22 on threes and 15-21 at the foul line. UConn struggled with its shooting, too, hitting 23-65 (35.4 percent), 4-28 threes and 17-25 free throws.
Jared Harper drives as seven-footer Amida Brimah tries to defend the Auburn point guard.
“I am so happy and so proud of our team,” Coach Bruce Pearl said.
“It is a great moment,” said Pearl, who noted that he scheduled back-to-back games vs. Oklahoma and UConn just before Christmas “to try to get nationally relevant.”
However, the coach noted the Tigers had their struggles offensively in both contests, but liked his team’s mental toughness. “We didn’t play well in either game and that is encouraging (to be able to win),” he said. “I have got so much to work with and I have got so much work to do to get us to play together.”
Freshman guard Mustapha Heron finished with 15 points, but hit just 5-22 field goals for the Tigers. He added eight rebounds.
Mustapha Heron, playing in his home state, looks to score inside vs. the Huskies.
Freshman Anfernee McLemore came off the bench to add nine points as he hit 3-4 field goals while pulling in five rebounds. He also won praise from his head coach for good defense and mental toughness.
Another freshman, Austin Wiley, scored seven points while adding three rebounds in his third collegiate game and second start. Wiley played 20 minutes and hit 3-5 field goals and dished out an assist.
The Tigers had a great chance to win the game in regulation, but went cold offensively and did not score for the final three minutes and 33 seconds.
Auburn also helped the Huskies with a foul by T.J. Dunans that was ruled intentional on a fast break layup, giving the Huskies a chance to cut the lead to 60-58 with 1:09 to play when the Tigers were up by six points. UConn tied the game on a baseline jumper on its final possession of regulation and Harper missed a three-point shot, sending the game to overtime.
The Huskies led all but 22 seconds in the opening half, but were on top only 31-30 at intermission.
Auburn made just 10-34 field goals in the first half and fell behind by as seven points at the 11:57 mark.
UConn was 13-34 from the field in the first half and hit 1-11 threes and 4-9 free throws, but held a 29-22 edge in rebounds. Auburn made 4-14 threes and 6-7 free throws in the opening 20 minutes. Harper led the Tigers with nine points in the period.
The second half stayed close. The biggest lead for the Tigers was six points after Heron hit two free throws with 4:49 to play. The Huskies led by as many as five points at the 10:45 mark of the second half, but Auburn pulled ahead at 51-50 on a layup by Harper with 7:09 to play.
“Jared Harper is special, and he has put it back-to-back now,” Pearl said of the freshman point guard also playing well on Wednesday vs. Oklahoma. “He wanted that ball and he is sticking his nose in and making plays defensively now after going through a little bit of a lull where he was a defensively liability. Now he is out there making plays.
“Danjel Purifoy is a terrific offensive player and he couldn’t make a shot to save his life, but he had 15 rebounds and played 44 minutes," said Pearl, who noted that the freshman’s three-pointer in overtime was a key play in the victory.
Coach Bruce Pearl gives instructions to the Tigers on Friday at the XL Center in Hartford.
Harper said beating the Huskies was a big deal for the Tigers. “It was a great win being on the road against UConn, a great university. They won a (national) championship a couple years ago.”
Harper was the primary defender on UConn’s leading scorer, Jalen Adams, who was held to nine points, eight under his season average. “I wanted to guard the best player on their team,” he said. “I didn’t want him to get anything. I wanted to put the pressure on myself to be able to defend and I knew I could do it.”
Senior guard Rodney Purvis led the Huskies in scoring with 20 points, but was 5-22 shooting and 1-13 on threes as UConn fell to 5-6 for the season.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn improved its all-time record to 1-1 vs. the Huskies and 2-1 all-time in games played in the state of Connecticut.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Auburn’s 10-2 record is the team’s best start to a season since going 15-2 in 2002-03 when the Tigers reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Horace Spencer, who had been suspended for two games and did not play vs. Oklahoma, was in for three minutes, but did not have any points or rebounds. Bryce Brown, who was also suspended for two games, did not get into the contest for a fourth consecutive time.
Stat of the Game: The Tigers outscored a large and physical opponent 38-28 for points in the paint.
Up Next: The Tigers open SEC play with a home game at 6 p.m. on Thursday vs. the Georgia Bulldogs.