Auburn grinds out tough win against UK
Sometimes shooters run cold. That was certainly the case early last night. Auburn entered their matchup against Kentucky as the conference's hottest shooting team. But against the Wildcats, Auburn began the game 1-of-16 from the floor. But the same shooters that ran cold found their rhythm and ignited Auburn down the stretch, eventually securing a 76-66 victory, Auburn's 11th conference win and 23rd on the year.
Bryce Brown returned from his shoulder injury and played a massive role in delivering a home victory. The junior guard was tied for the most points on the team with 18 and hit some massive shots in the waining minutes to secure a win. After the game, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl shared how important Brown's return was to the team.
"I told him beforehand, I don't think we win this game without him," Pearl said.
Even with Brown's brilliant return, the night belonged to Anfernee McLemore. After Texas A&M bigs Robert Johnson and Tyler Davis dominated the paint in Auburn's only home loss, McLemore knew he would have to step up and perform against a Kentucky team that features six players 6'9'' or taller. McLemore responded by posting his first career double double in the SEC. McLemore had 13 points and 11 rebounds to go along with two blocks and three steals. It was undoubtedly his best performance to date.
Desean Murray had a similar task to McLemore and delivered similar success. The undersized forward spent the night routinely battling in the paint against players who had significant height advantage over the Presbyterian transfer. But time and time again, Murray beat Kentucky's bigs for points and rebounds. He finished one point shy of a double double of his own, tallied nine points and 11 rebounds.
Jared Harper matched Brown's scoring with 18 of his own while adding seven assists. Harper stands alone as the SEC's leader in assists per game with 6.0 per game. From his freshman to sophomore seasons, Harper has made improvements in almost every statistical category but assists stand out above all else. After spending the offseason working on being a ball distributor, he has doubled his assist numbers after averaging just three per game last season.
All in all, Wednesday night's Kentucky victory may be one of Auburn's best of the year. They battled a bigger talented team and overcame an awful start to grab another big conference win.
Auburn will now travel to Columbia for their next game against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Frank Martin's squad was the Cinderella story of last year's NCAA Tournament, coming out of nowhere to emerge as a Final Four team. This year has been a struggle as the Gamecocks sit at 4-9 in the conference and have lost their last six games.