Auburn defeats Murray State to continue streak
Tuesday night's game against Murray State had all the trimmings of a trap game. Auburn entered Murray, Kentucky riding high off a statement win over Middle Tennessee State, looking to finish their non-conference road schedule with a win. Murray State, sitting at 7-2, didn't appear to pose anywhere near the threat MTSU brought to the table and Auburn dispatched the Blue Raiders with ease. But the Racers proved to be a valiant opponent that played the Tigers close into the final minutes. But with the fantastic play of Jared Harper and Desean Murray, Bruce Pearl's squad managed to escape with an 81-77 victory.
Early on, the Tigers appeared to be suffering from jet lag as Murray State raced out to a 10 point lead in just under four minutes. But Auburn was able to find their footing in large part to the three point shot. Auburn shot just over 44 percent from behind the three point line, hitting 12 three pointers.
One reason Auburn struggled to put Murray State away was rebounding. For the first time all year, Auburn was outrebounded by an opponent. This due in large part to the loss of Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore. Spencer was forced to leave the game after being assessed a Flagrant Two foul and McLemore was sent to the locker room with concussion-like symptoms. But as has been the case all year, other players were able to pick up the slack and power Auburn to a victory.
Desean Murray continued his fantastic play for Auburn, leading the team in both points and rebounds. His ability to get up for rebounds, even as an undersized forward, is a key reason Auburn survived losing Spencer and McLemore for the game, and has had success with Wiley and Purifoy sidelined with eligibility issues. Murray has proved to be one of the most important additions to this year's team after transferring in from Presbyterian College.
As the the game wound to a close with Auburn still trailing by one, Pearl was looking for one of his players to step up. Sophomore guard Jared Harper was able to answer that call, and his play down the stretch powered Auburn to a 13-4 run to end the game. Harper scored 11 of his 17 points in the final four minutes, nine of those coming on three pointers. After the game, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl was thrilled with his point guard's clutch play.
"It was anyone's game," Pearl said. "Jared Harper just stepped up late and made some shots."
The win over Murray State gave Auburn eight victories in a row, a first since the 1999-2000 season. Auburn has a chance to go for nine on December 23, when UCONN comes to town.