By CHARLIE CLARKE, Associated Press
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — With 13 minutes left, Missouri had trimmed No. 19 Auburn’s lead to just one with a 9-2 spurt. Less than six minutes later, Auburn was ahead 74-54.
In a game of runs, Auburn used a 20-2 surge to pull away for a 91-73 victory Wednesday night. Jared Harper led Auburn with 21 points, and Bryce Brown and Desean Murray each added 16.
Five players scored in double figures for Auburn (18-2, 6-1 Southeastern Conference). Mustapha Heron had 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
The teams went back and forth for the first 25 minutes until Auburn took control. The second-half outburst featured spot-up shooting and a fast-break offense that keys the SEC’s highest-scoring team.
“We got stops in that period,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “We came down the other end and got some good looks. Jared Harper took over the game.”
Harper hit a trio of 3-pointers during the big run. After shooting just 1 for 6 in the first half, he went 4 for 4 beyond the arc and 6 for 6 from the free throw line in the second half to finish with 18 points after halftime.
“Once I hit a banked 3, I knew it was going to click,” Harper said.
Kassius Robertson led Missouri (13-7, 3-4) with 21 points, but his team hurt itself with 21 turnovers to 10 for Auburn. Jordan Barnett broke out of a scoring slump with 19 points.
Missouri relied heavily on 3-pointers, which accounted for 11 of the team’s 21 field goals. Barnett went 5 of 8 and Robertson was 3 for 10 from long range.
“We have to defend, because I don’t think we have enough offensively to take days off on defense,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They outplayed us and out-toughed us.”
Auburn: The Tigers have rebounded nicely from their second loss of the season. Their high-powered offense should keep them in good shape for the rest of conference play.
Missouri: Sloppy offense cost Missouri, and in the end, these Tigers simply couldn’t keep up with Auburn. Missouri continues to pride itself on defense, but it hasn’t always been able to make up for its offensive deficiencies.
Missouri’s 40-31 edge on the boards certainly didn’t feel like one against Auburn, which led 21-8 in second-chance points. Auburn peppered Missouri with blocks and allowed only 18 points in the paint.
“We made it hard for them to get it in there,” Pearl said. “When it was in there, we were active. We play with energy and we rely on each other.”
Auburn’s Anfernee McLemore entered leading the SEC with 55 blocks, 14 ahead of second-place Donta Hall from Alabama. McLemore padded his total with six blocks against Missouri, contributing to Auburn’s nine-block outing.
“McLemore, if you watch him on film, is a good shot-blocker,” Martin said. “When you lift him up, you’ve got to hit an open guy. It’s really just recognizing him.”
South Carolina defeated No. 20 Florida on Wednesday night, which gives Auburn sole possession of first place in the SEC. At 6-1 in conference play, the Tigers are the only one-loss team remaining in the SEC, and one of just two teams with only one loss on the road.
“While I’m proud of our kids, it really doesn’t mean much right now,” Pearl said. “What’s meaningful is the fact that we got this road win in a really tough place to play. Look around the league, every night people are just knocking each other off.”
Auburn returns home to play LSU on Saturday.
Missouri visits Mississippi State on Saturday, the first stop on a two-game road trip.
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