T.J. Dunans (above) and Devin Waddell are shown during the pre-game Senior Day ceremony.
Auburn, Ala.--Auburn snapped a two-game losing streak and finished the regular season with an 89-78 SEC basketball victory over Missouri on Senior Day at Auburn Arena on Saturday.
The home team had one of its best shooting performances of the season from the field, making 56.1 percent of its shots. Combine that with a plus nine in rebounding margin and that helped the Tigers overcome a poor free throw shooting performance (16-28, 57.1 percent).
“I thought we took good shots,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, whose team will play Missouri again on Wednesday in the SEC Tournament.
T.J. Dunans added 16 points, five rebounds, four steals, three assists and three turnovers on his Senior Day as a starter.
Danjel Purifoy scored 13 points while senior Ronnie Johnson, getting the start at point guard, tied for the team lead in rebounds with six, matching Anfernee McLemore, who hit all four of his shots for eight points.
Also starting, senior LaRon Smith made his only field goal and finished with two rebounds, two points, two blocks, one steal and one assist in 14 minutes.
The other senior, Devin Waddell, hurt his leg in practice and played just for a few seconds in the closing minute.
Missouri got 19 points and eight rebounds from Kevin Puryear. Mizzou shot 34.4 percent from the field and hit 13-38 threes and 21-26 free throws.
“Our blocking nine shots and rebounding was a cure for our ills on defense,” Pearl said.
“Defensively, I thought we were pretty engaged. They obviously shot the ball well from three (34.2 percent).”
Auburn’s bench outscored Mizzou’s bench 37-13 and the home team outscored the visitors 16-0 on fastbreak points.
“It was great to see our seniors lead us to victory,” Pearl said. “I thought all three of them were engaged, particularly T.J. Dunans, demonstrating what he can do and the impact he can have on a game with his four steals and some of the plays he made. You could tell the team feeds off of him and felt good about the way he played with a little bit of freedom. He played hard.”
In the first game vs. Missouri this season Pearl’s team was dominated on the boards, but that didn’t happen in the rematch. “We had a few more points in the paint and points in the paint lead to inside shots, inside rebounds," the coach said.
“It is interesting, having LaRon Smith out there a little bit helps us defensively, ”?Pearl noted. “It gives us more size. I thought that was a positive and you could see LaRon out there with a little more consistency behind Danjel Purifoy.”
Pearl said he liked the offensive performance of Heron, who made 6-7 field goals and was 3-3 on treys.
“We were moving the ball and we were getting good looks,” Heron said of the first half when Auburn built the lead it never gave up. “Everything was going right.”
T.J. Dunans drives to the basket vs. Missouri.
Dunans said he enjoyed his final home game. “I came out and just tried to have fun.”
Nine different AU players had two or more rebounds, which was a factor in the victory, Dunans said. “We knew last game they out-rebounded us and that was the main point--not let it happen again. It was the only reason it was a close game last time.”
Auburn led almost the entire first half, building the margin to as many as 20 points with 2:06 on the clock. Auburn took a 54-40 lead into the locker room.
AU hit 22-32 field goals (66.8 percent), 5-12 threes and 5-9 free throws in the half. Heron, who was 5-5 with a pair of treys, led the team in scoring in the half with 12 points.
Missouri got 11 points in the first half from Puryear. The visitors hit 11-33 field goals (33.3 percent), 6-17 threes and 12-15 free throws in the first half.
Heron was on target with his shooting vs. Missouri.
Auburn held a 23-13 edge in rebounds and turned the ball over six times, three more than Mizzou
Missouri cut the margin to eight points in the second half, but could get no closer than that.
The visitors fell to 7-23 for the year and 2-16 in the SEC with no road victories since winning at Arkansas in 2014.
Auburn improved to 18-13 with a 7-11 mark in the league.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The players were at the exits of Auburn Arena after the game thanking fans for their support this year. It is a gesture they also did in Pearl's previous two seasons in charge of the program.
Stat of the Game: The home Tigers were strong inside, outscoring Missouri 44-16 for points in the paint.
Up Next: The Tigers will play a rematch vs. Missouri at 8:30 p.m. CST on Wednesday in the opening round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville. The winner of that matchup plays Ole Miss, which has a first round bye. The winner of that second matchup plays Arkansas, which has a double bye.
SEC Tournament Draw:
FIRST ROUND - March 8 (Wednesday)
Game 1 #12 Mississippi State vs. #13 LSU [SEC Network] 6:00 p.m. CST
Game 2 #11 Auburn vs. #14 Missouri [SEC Network] 25 min after G1
SECOND ROUND - March 9 (Thursday)
Game 3 #8 Georgia vs. #9 Tennessee [SEC Network] Noon CST
Game 4 Game 1 Winner vs. #5 Alabama [SEC Network] 25 min after G3
Game 5 #7 Vanderbilt vs. #10 Texas A&M [SEC Network] 6:00 p.m. CST
Game 6 Game 2 Winner vs. #6 Ole Miss [SEC Network] 25 min after G5
QUARTERFINALS - March 10 (Friday)
Game 7 Game 3 Winner vs. #1 Kentucky [SEC Network] Noon CST
Game 8 Game 4 Winner vs. #4 S. Carolina [SEC Network] 25 min after G7
Game 9 Game 5 Winner vs. #2 Florida [SEC Network] 6:00 p.m. CST
Game 10 Game 6 Winner vs. #3 Arkansas [SEC Network] 25 min after G9
SEMIFINALS - March 11 (Saturday)
Game 11 Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner [ESPN] Noon CST
Game 12 Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner [ESPN] 25 min after G11
FINALS - March 12 (Sunday)
Game 13 Game 11 Winner vs. Game 12 Winner [ESPN] Noon CST