Mustapha Heron (above) led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding.
Nashville, Tenn.--Giving away a six-point lead in the final 26 seconds, the Auburn Tigers found a way to lose to the conference’s worst team in the opening round of the SEC Basketball Tournament on Wednesday night.
A three-point, buzzer-beater by Kevin Puryear in overtime pushed Missouri past Auburn 86-83 at Bridgestone Arena. With the loss Auburn falls to 18-14 overall, dropping six of its final eight games.
A three-point shot by Frankie Hughes with three seconds left sent the game into overtime after freshman point guard Jared Harper turned the ball over near midcourt on an offensive foul as he tried to dribble into three Missouri players with 15 seconds left.
Asked why he didn’t have graduate transfer point guard Ronnie Johnson on the court in that situation instead of Harper, Bruce Pearl would only say it was a coach’s decision.
Pearl said, "I thought about fouling at the end of regulation, but there was so much time left, 17 seconds, that I decided to let it go ahead and play it on through, and of course, they did miss their first attempt, but got the offensive rebound and knocked down the three to send it into overtime."
After his Tigers lost in the opening round of the SEC Tournament for a second consecutive year, Pearl didn’t want to talk about a potential postseason tournament.
The normally chatty head coach also didn’t have a lot to say in the postgame locker room, cutting the session short after his team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
“We are obviously disappointed,” Pearl said. “We felt like we were a couple of wins from getting into the NIT and continuing to play. I give Missouri credit. Those kids obviously battled.”
Bruce Pearl reacts to a play on Wednesday night in Nashville.
Pearl said, “We had plenty of opportunities to make offensive plays, or shots or free throws, and we had opportunities to get defensive stops and stay with shooters and things along those lines and we just didn’t.”
Senior T.J. Dunans, who finished with 11 points, said, “I feel like we should be playing tomorrow. I feel like we let another get away from us.
“I want to say we got too relaxed,” Dunans said. “We needed to buy in more. We got up by 10 we should have slowed down more and ran some more time off the clock.
“The season didn’t go as planned,” he added. “I think we underachieved. We should have won way more games, but I feel like they are going to be a hell of a team next year.”
The key statistic was three-point shooting. Missouri hit 16-34 treys. Auburn was good on threes, too, but was outscored by 15 points behind the line after it hit 11-25 threes. Missouri averaged 6.83 three-pointers in SEC play prior to making 29 in its last two games--both against AU. Missouri set a season-high with the 13 threes at Auburn Arena that it topped on Wednesday night in Nashville.
Auburn out-rebounded Missouri 39-33 with Mustapha Heron leading the way with 14 to go with a team-leading 15 points. Danjel Purifoy and Bryce Brown scored 13 apiece while Dunans and Johnson finished with 11.
Auburn built the lead to as many as 10 points in the second half after shooting 48 percent in the period. For the game AU hit 43.6 percent after making just 2-6 field goals in overtime. AU was 24-36 at the foul line. Missouri hit 42.1 percent from the field and was 22-31 at the foul line.
Missouri led for 15:42 of the first half and was on top 36-35 at the break. Puryear led Missouri at the break with 11 points.
Auburn got 11 points apiece from Heron and Johnson in the first half.
Auburn hit 10-24 field goals for 41.7 percent in the half and was 6-11 on threes and 9-15 at the foul line. Missouri hit 9-24 field goals fo for 37.5 percent and made 6-12 threes and 12-16 free throws. Auburn held an 18-15 advantage in rebounds in the first half and turned the ball over six times, one less than Missouri in the opening 20 minutes.
Marquis Daniels was honored at halftime as Auburn's Basketball Legend.
“I think the difference in the game was just, you know, getting stops, making the right plays defensively,”? Heron, a freshman guard said. "I? blame myself for a lot of that. I didn’t think I came through late on down the stretch on either end of the floor so it is just something I am working for next year.” Heron committed seven turnovers.
Puryear led all scorers with 30 points and he pulled in seven rebounds. Cullen Vanleer came off the bench to hit 5-7 threes and score16 for Missouri. "Anybody knows anything can happen in March," said Puryear, whose team lost to Auburn twice in the regular season. "We kept fight and stuck with the game plan and got some stops and key rebounds down the stretch--hit some big shots."
Puryear said he couldn't remember the last time he made a buzzer-beater to win a game.
Coach Kim Anderson, who will be replaced after this season, said, "I am really proud of this team. They continue to fight. They fought all year and I thought we got some keystones at the end we needed and then Kev and Frankie made some big shots."
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn turned the ball over 16 times, six more than Missouri. AU was outscored 19-17 in points off of turnovers.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Neither team had a fastbreak basket in a game the lead changed 11 times.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Mississippi State won the opening game on Wednesday night 79-52 vs. LSU.
Up Next: Pearl said no decision will be made until next week on the potential of the Tigers taking a bid to play in one of the low-profile postseason tournaments.