T.J. Dunans (above) scored a dozen points and added six rebounds.
Auburn, Ala.--Five Auburn players scored in double figures as Bruce Pearl's Tigers earned their second SEC win of the season and the 500th victory of the coach’s career on Wednesday night with a 78-74 victory over LSU.
Auburn, which has been hot and cold at the foul line this season, trended toward very warm at Auburn Arena as the Tigers hit 19-22 free throws. As a result Auburn bettered last season’s victory total to improve to 12-6 overall and improved its league mark to 2-4.
LSU fell to 9-8 overall and 1-5 in the league despite outscoring the home team 29-8 in second chance points.
T.J. Dunans and Mustapha Heron scored 12 points apiece for the Tigers while Anfernee McLemore came off the bench to add 11 points and four rebounds with two blocks and two steals. Pearl said he thought it was the freshman's best game of the season.
Horace Spencer scored 10 points while adding seven rebounds while Austin Wiley finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
"We started Horace at power forward and he hadn't played there at all, but I think it helped us win the game," Pearl said. "My assistant coaches recommended it at first and I told them on Sunday that it was not an option. Then, the more I watched LSU like they had watched LSU, I saw what they were saying. LSU was too big for us to not try to make that change. I can't emphasize enough the enormity of that change...It was a gamble and it paid off," he said.
"The other thing that jumps out at me that Austin Wiley and Horace Spencer were a combined 8-8 at the foul line and sometimes that is what you have got to do to win close games," Pearl added.
Ronnie Johnson played a key role for the Tigers at point guard.
Auburn led by as many as 15 points in the second half, but the visitors cut the margin to two points late in the game before home team held off the LSU comeback.
LSU led by as many as 11 points in the first half, but Auburn pulled ahead 29-28 at the 2:57 mark on a rebound dunk by Wiley.
Heron led the Tigers in scoring in the first half with 11 points. Antonio Blakeney led the Bayou Bengals with nine points.
Auburn hit 12-36 field goals (33.3 percent) in the first half, 2-13 threes and 9-10 free throws while the visitors made 11-31 field goals (35.5 percent), 3-12 threes and 7-7 free throws. Auburn held a 23-22 rebounding edge in the first half in which the Tigers had just three turnovers vs. nine for LSU.
Dunans was a key factor in sparking Auburn's first-half comeback and helping the home team expand the lead in the half.
“T.J. played very well," Pearl said. "He shot a good percentage. We have to get him to the foul line a little more, but with three assists and one turnover he wasn’t impatient and he let the game come to him. He attacked the gaps when he needed to. He got other guys involved, but,T.J. can play better. He can defend better and he can rebound better. There are a lot of things he can do out there. Still, six rebounds, four of them defensive, that’s a good overall night. We have to have that kind of effort and performance from T.J. Dunans for us to win in the SEC. "
For the game Auburn hit 27-66 field goals (40.9 percent) while LSU made 39.2 percent (29-74). LSU hit 10-13 free throws to Auburn's 19-22. Auburn was 5-21 on threes while LSU made 6-26.
The visitors out-rebounded Auburn 46-42, but committed 15 turnovers, four more than Auburn.
LSU coach Johnny Jones said he expected a tough game because Pearl’s team played well in its previous outing at Kentucky.
“I thought our guys did a tremendous job of competing for 40 minutes,” he said. “Hats off to Auburn for making the plays down the stretch necessary to win the game.”
One of the players who made plays late in the game, senior point guard Ronnie Johnson, said he enjoys being on the floor at crunch time.
“I?think we are definitely starting to execute a little bit more on offense,” Johnson said. “I?think our next step is defensive rebounding. If we can do that the sky is the limit.”
Anfernee McLemore points to the 500 on his postgame celebration shirt.
Pearl said, "This was the best we have played defensively and LSU is a good offensive team. We have to continue to build on this."
Because of the way his Tigers were performing defensively, late in the game the Auburn coach went with a lineup that wasn't one he expected to be on the court with Dunans, Spencer, Bryce Brown, McLemore and Johnson on the floor together. Pearl said, "How many minutes have they played together? The answer is probably none except for the last few minutes of that game."
Aaron Epps led LSU with 15 points and 13 rebounds while Duop Reath and Blakeney added 13 points.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn blocked eight shots with Spencer leading the team with three.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Auburn held a 16-6 advantage in fastbreak points.
Worth Noting Part 3: Pearl's first college victory was at Division II Southern Indiana as his team scored 116 points vs. Indiana Tech.
Pearl On His 500th Win: "I’m obviously grateful. My daughter came in from Atlanta. I had some friends come in from Evansville that were dear friends of mine when I was at Southern Indiana, and so I think your family and everybody else sort-of makes a bigger deal out of this."
Stat of the Game: Auburn made 86.4 percent of its free throws.