Mustapha Heron (above) drives to the basket at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday.
Columbia, Mo.--Nine three-point field goals helped Auburn overcome poor free throw shooting as Bruce Pearl’s Tigers picked up their first SEC basketball victory of the season with a 77-72 win at Missouri on Tuesday night.
Auburn outscored the home team by a dozen points on treys. That was a big key on a night the visitors made just 18-33 free throws while being out-rebounded 51-42.
With the game tied at 66-66 with 2:28 left the Tigers got a three-pointer by Mustapha Heron to take the lead for good at the 2:15 mark. They managed to hold on to their edge by going 6-6 at the foul line in the final minute as Jared Harper, Heron and Ronnie Johnson each hit a pair of free throws.
Heron overcame an ankle problem and a poor-shooting start to lead Auburn in scoring with 16 points and rebounds with nine. He hit 4-14 field goals and 6-7 free throws. Bruce Pearl said the freshman hurt his ankle in a contact drill on Monday and the Auburn coach noted he was concerned whether or not the team’s leading scorer would be able to play.
The Tigers got double figures in points from four others. Bryce Brown and Johnson came off the bench to score 13 apiece while Horace Spencer added 10 points as a reserve to match Harper’s total.
Auburn also helped its cause by blocking a dozen shots led by four from freshman Austin Wiley, who finished with five points and three rebounds on a foul-plagued night when he played only 10 minutes.
Auburn improved to 11-5 by snapping a three-game losing streak. The Tigers are 1-3 in the SEC while Missouri dropped to 0-3 in the league and 5-10 overall on a night Auburn won for the first time after losses in three previous trips to Mizzou Arena.
“We didn’t play very well, but we played a lot of guys,” Pearl noted. "I felt like I was a hockey coach sending them over the boards...we were changing lines out there. That stat sheet line has to be about eight pages deep.
“The loss of Danjel (injured forward Danjel Purifoy) is huge,” ?the coach said. “Nobody can really replace him. Literally, LaRon Smith played some of his position, T.J. Lang played some of the minutes, Anfernee (McLemore) played some of it and Devin (Waddell) played some of it.
“When I put the personnel lineup on the board, I put up all 12 players,” ?Pearl said. “I said don’t worry about your rotations, don’t worry about your minutes, don’t worry about your combinations. Worry about beating Missouri.”
Missouri led for just over four minutes in the first half, but was on top at the break 35-34 thanks to a dominating performance on the boards. The home team enjoyed a 28-20 rebounding edge in the first 20 minutes, including a 12-5 advantage in offensive rebounds.
Both teams struggled with their shooting. Auburn hit 11-30 field goals (36.7 percent) ?in the half and was 6-17 on threes and 6-10 at the foul line. Missouri made 12-38 (31.6 percent) of its field goals and was 4-11 on threes and 7-9 on free throws.
Auburn’s leading scorer, Heron, had a rough first half offensively. He was 0-8 from the field while scoring four points, but the freshman did have a team-high seven rebounds. Brown was AU’s top scorer at the half with nine points.
Sophomore center Horace Spencer goes inside to score vs. Missouri.
The visitors led by as many as six points on a Brown three at the 11:43 mark to make the score 16-10. However, Auburn didn’t scorer again until the 7:09 mark when Harper made a three to cut the Missouri lead to 20-19.
Missouri built a six-point margin at the 15:20 mark of the second half at 44-38, its largest of the night, but Auburn rallied to pull ahead 49-46 and never trailed after that although the lead never got more than five points the rest of the way, which was also the final margin.
Missouri’s Jordan Barnett, a 6-7 junior forward, led all scorers with 20 points. K.J. Walton, a six-foot-three guard, pulled in 13 rebounds for the home team.
Auburn turned the ball over 14 times, one less than Missouri, which hit just 32.4 percent of its shots, making 22-68 field goals while the winners hit 25-59 (42.4 percent).
Missouri was 5-19 on threes and made 23-33 free throws. Auburn hit 9-25 three-pointers.
Auburn helped its cause by scoring 17 points in the final two minutes and 15 seconds. “I thought our offensive efficiency was good late,” Pearl said.
Worth Noting, Part 1: The Tigers, who had struggled in the second half in their previous two games, outscored Missouri 43-37 after intermission.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The contest was the first one the Tigers played this season without redshirt freshman forward Danjel Purifoy, who injured his ankle in the first half of the Ole Miss game last Saturday. Anfernee McLemore made his first start in Purifoy’s spot, but got into early foul trouble. He did not score and finished with four rebounds in 14 minutes.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Spencer took five field goals and made all of them.
Worth Noting, Part 4: Missouri was plus 10 in offensive rebounds, 25-15, which did not set well with Auburn’s coach. “Twenty-five rebounds, that’s ridiculous,” Pearl said, although he noted that Missouri's high number of missed shots contributed to that statistic.
Stat of the Game: Auburn’s bench out-scored Missouri’s bench 43-23.
Up Next: The Tigers will take on the Kentucky Wildcats at 3 p.m. CST at Rupp Arena in Lexington.