Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl knew his team would be challenged during its two-game stretch at a neutral site vs. Middle Tennessee State and at Murray State.
It was not always comfortable, but Auburn passed both tests.
The Tigers used a 10-2 run in the final minutes to pull away from Murray State en route to a 81-77 victory Tuesday night inside the CFSB Center in Murray, Kentucky. The win marked Auburn’s eighth-consecutive win.
With the game tied at 69 with 3:49 to go, sophomore Jared Harper scored eight of Auburn’s next 10 points to carry the Tigers to a crucial road victory.
Harper, who had just one field goal in the first 36 minutes, scored 11 of his 17 points in the final four minutes. He knocked down all three of his three-point attempts in the game's final stretch.
"I'm not sure what we called those last plays to Jared, other than 'get the bleep out of the way.'" Pearl said. "They played tougher than we did tonight. This Murray State will win a lot of basketball games. We're happy to get out of here."
“I’ve always had the confidence to be able to make plays late in the game,” Harper said on Auburn’s postgame radio broadcast. “I’ve spent a lot of the time in the gym. I trust myself and my teammates trust me, so I’ve just been able to go out late in the game and perform.”
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Auburn started the night 2-for-17 from the floor, trailing by as much as 10 in the early minutes. The Tigers rallied and finished the half 11-for-19 and led by as many as seven in the first half.
“We’ve usually started the games well, but this is one of the first games we didn’t start as well,” Harper said. “They started hot. But we trusted the process that we’ve just been working, and we were able to come back and close it.”
Murray State’s Jonathan Stark came out of the locker room hot, knocking down his first five shots, four of which came from beyond the arc.
The Tigers and Racers went back and forth for the majority of the half before Harper took over down the stretch.
For the first time this season, Auburn was out-rebounded by its opponent as the Racers won the battle on the boards 45-41.
Auburn finished the night 27-for-64 (42 percent) from the floor and 12-for-27 (44 percent) from three-point range. The Tigers also knocked down 15 of its 17 shots from the free throw line.
Desean Murray led the Tigers with 18 points and nine rebounds. Harper finished with 17 points, while Mustapha Heron, who battled a stomach illness, scored 16 points. Bryce Brown scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half.
Anfernee McLemore finished with four points and five rebounds, but left the game with a concussion.
Terrell Miller scored a game-high 24 points to lead Murray State, who fell to 7-3 overall. Miller also grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds. Stark scored 21 points to go along with five rebound and five assists.
Auburn (10-1) returns to action Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT as its hosts UConn inside Auburn Arena. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
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