Ronnie Johnson (above) drives to the hoop for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--A three-point shot by T.J. Lang to send the game into overtime came up short as did Auburn's bid to win its first SEC basketball game of the season.
Ole Miss held off a late Auburn rally to take an 88-85 victory on Saturday night at Auburn Arena, where the visitors helped their cause by making 24-28 foul shots, including pressure free throws in the final minute.
However, the key shot in the game was a three-pointer by Rasheed Brooks with 39 seconds left after Auburn had rallied to tie the game at 80-80. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy admitted that wasn’t the player he wanted to shoot the ball in that situation, but said the situation shot clock that six-foot-five senior guard launch the three.
The Tigers dropped to 10-5 overall and 0-3 in the SEC while Ole Miss improved to 10-5 overall and 1-2 in the SEC.
Freshman point guard Jared Harper led the Tigers with 24 points and was the offensive catalyst for the late rally. Mustapha Heron added 20 points for the Tigers and Ronnie Johnson came off the bench to score 12 points.
Six Ole Miss players scored 10 or more points led by18 from Deandre Burnett and 16 by Terrence Davis.
“I was disappointed with the outcome, I was pleased with the effort,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “I thought we got better tonight.”
In addition to losing the game, Pearl lost his second leading scorer and No. 2 rebounder, forward Danjel Purifoy, who suffered an ankle sprain in the first half. The redshirt freshman finished with six points and three rebounds in 10 minutes.
“Losing Danjel was tough,” said Pearl, who indicated that Purifoy will likely miss the next game. “He is an important part of our scheme.”
Harper, who hit 4-9 field goals, 2-6 threes and 14-17 free throws, sparked a comeback from a dozen points down with 5:29 to play. “When Coach put me back in the game and put the ball in my hands, I knew I would be able to take the game over,” said Harper, who fouled out and wasn't on the court for the final shot.
Harper, and fellow freshman Heron, said they believe the Tigers improved over their previous game, a road loss at Vanderbilt.
“We are worried about getting the next one,” Heron said when asked about the team being down due to its poor start in league play. “The past is the past. Like he said we got better tonight. We are going to Mizzou with a clear mind. We are going to work hard and try to get a win.”
Anfernee McLemore jumps high to defend the basket for the Tigers.
Pearl said the Tigers got a “great look” with Lang’s three-pointer at the end of the game. The play was designed to free up either Lang or guard Bryce Brown for a shot.
The coach also liked his team’s post defense and the way the press helped the comeback late in the game, but added, “We should press that way all of the time.”
Commenting on the final minutes of the game, Kennedy of Ole Miss said, "Mentally that was tough because there was a stretch where we just couldn't stop Jared Harper. He was just splitting us up and making hard shots. We were up by ten and playing well, and they kept coming to the point that they tied the game. Rasheed Brooks hit a huge huge shot. I thought he had a big second half and stepped up like you want your seniors to do."
Ole Miss led early in the game, building as much as a seven-point advantage at the 13:08 mark. The Tigers caught the Rebels when Bryce Brown hit a three-pointer at the 11:03 mark to put Auburn ahead 16-15.
The Tigers built the lead to eight points on a pair of free throws by Heron to make the score 27-19 at the 6:04 mark.
Heron led the Tigers in scoring in the first half with a dozen points as Auburn was on top 41-33 at the break.
Auburn hit 15-30 first half field goals, 5-11 threes and 6-8 free throws. Ole Miss made 12-28 field goals, 4-12 threes and 5-5 free throws. Auburn held a 19-13 rebounding edge in the first half and each team turned the ball over seven times.
Ole Miss outscored the Tigers 55-44 in the second half. The Rebels pulled even at 44-44 on a three by Davis with 16:42 to play and regained the lead at 12:56 at 50-49 on a three-pointer by Sebastian Saiz, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Each team got 25 points from its bench players. Auburn turned the ball over 16 times, one fewer than Ole Miss, which shot 49.1 percent from the field to top Auburn, which finished at 44.6 percent. The Tigers were 8-23 on threes while Ole Miss hit 12-27.
Pearl said he thought the Tigers were solid defensively in the first half when they held the Rebels to 33 points, but in the second half Ole Miss scored 55.
"Our second half defense was not as good," he said. "I think a lot of that had to do with Ole Miss on offense. They did a good job.
"I thought we did a really good job on Saiz and limited him," Pearl added. "He had only three field goals (3-6). I don't what that is, but I bet if you look at his season that might be his season low. I thought we did a great job in the post, defending it and doubling it. Our rotations weren't what they were supposed to me. We made that mistake between two and four times, and that nine or 12 points because they kicked it out. That was disappointing."
Worth Noting, Part 1: Ole Miss led the SEC in rebounding, but Auburn led in rebounds 36-26.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Auburn outscored the Rebels 28-22 for points in the paint and 11-7 on second chance points, but the Rebels enjoyed an 8-6 edge in fastbreak points.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Ronnie Johnson hit 5-8 field goals while adding three assists, three rebounds, two turnovers and one steal in 19 minutes off the bench. The Ole Miss coach was impressed. “He just split us up,” Kennedy said. “He is really quick and he really bothered us.” Kennedy also said he was impressed by the energy from the crowd at Auburn Arena.
Stat of the Game: Ole Miss hit 85.7 percent of its free throws (24-28) while auburn made 73.0 percent (27-37).
Up Next: The Tigers will travel to Missouri for a 6 p.m. game on Tuesday.