In its last four SEC wins, No. 19 Auburn needed major halftime adjustments to capture eventual victories. The Tigers scored 50 after the break vs. Ole Miss, 52 vs. Mississippi State, 53 vs. Georgia and 50 vs. Missouri after trailing by an average of 7.5 points.
Coming out of the locker room after those first 20 minutes, Auburn looked like a team possessed. Saturday evening against LSU, that unhinged, almost inhuman scoring ability flexed its muscles the whole way through.
Days after a surprising blowout win on the road at Missouri, Auburn avoided the letdown. Bruce Pearl’s home Tigers blew the top off Auburn Arena from the get-go, as the momentum of an early 18-0 run never left the building in the team’s 95-70 shellacking of LSU (12-8, 3-5 SEC).
Sophomore guard Mustapha Heron opened up the bloodletting with 16 points in the opening five minutes. It seemed like he might go for 100 after pacing the Tigers’ leadoff 5-for-5 clip from three, a start Heron hasn’t felt “since high school.”
“We were trying not to come out flat,” Heron said. “That’s one thing we’ll focus on at Ole Miss, having the same type of energy we had today.”
The former five-star prospect quickly cooled off, but was spelled by go-to scorer Bryce Brown. Brown ended with 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting from deep. The junior didn’t make a single shot from inside the arc.
Unlike Brown, forward Desean Murray didn’t shy away from the basket, turning in his routine stat-sheet stuffing performance with 18 points, five assists and eight rebounds, six of which came off the offensive glass.
Nearly eclipsing 100 points for the third time in its historic 2017-18 season, the Auburn offense could do no wrong. On possessions that ended in a bad shot, Murray was there to clean up the mess. When Heron or Brown’s hot hands wavered, Pearl turned to another member of his capable 10-man rotation.
“No one gets beat up in the heavy minutes," Pearl said of his depth. "Not one guy plays 30 minutes. And that's a real advantage. We can keep that. We've got so much balance in the minutes. In the past few games, you've seen teams tire a bit, and that hasn't happened to us."
Despite an apparent size advantage, mainly in seven-foot center Duop Reath, LSU was crushed on the boards (38-24). Reath led the Bayou Bengals in scoring with 18, yet could only manage a trio of rebounds against the tenacious Murray.
“Whenever we rebound, we win,” Heron said. “We beat people to the boards and try to out-rebound, and that’s what we did tonight.”
According to Murray, Pearl reiterated in game preparation that LSU is 11-1 this season when out-rebounding opponents. To Murray, the task was “not that hard.”
“I just do anything to help my team win,” Murray said. “A lot of people were worried about Anfernee and Horace and everybody else getting rebounds. It’s not that hard to get rebounds, because everybody is worried about everybody, not just one person.”
Guards Jared Harper and Davion Mitchell were tasked with locking down LSU’s Tremont Waters, who averaged just over six assists per game.
Waters, who Heron said was “heavy in (Auburn’s) scouting report,” coughed up the ball to the tune of six turnovers, and his team-leading 15.1 points per game scoring average dwindled to a career-low four points on 1-of-7 shooting.
LSU head coach Will Wade couldn’t find other options after his leading scorer had been corralled.
“Auburn bottled him up,” Wade said. “They let our other guys drive down the lane. They were trying to block shots when they happened. They really collapsed the lane when Waters had the ball. He didn’t find the open guy and make the simple play."
Saturday marked Auburn’s annual AUTLive game, which Pearl instated on The Plains as an adaptation of his Tennessee version “OUTLive.” Pearl uses the slogan and game as a platform to promote cancer research and awareness in the Auburn community.
“The support for AUTLive is just incredible,” Pearl said. “We’ve got the brand out now of outliving cancer, and it’s got a chance to hold on. We’re going to take that money and spread it all over the community to patients, and I can hardly wait to start helping them some more, because of the generosity of the community.”
No. 19 Auburn maintains its lock on first place of the Southeastern Conference (19-2, 7-1 SEC) and will travel to Ole Miss Tuesday. LSU stays on the road and will travel to Knoxville to face Tennessee on Wednesday.