Bruce Pearl has taken advantage of halftime this season.
Following Auburn’s 14-point halftime deficit, Pearl’s squad came back to defeat Georgia 79-65. Bryce Brown led the game in scoring with 28 on 9-of-15 shooting, including 25 in Auburn’s 53-point second half.
In each of its last three games, Auburn has trailed at halftime by 10, 11 and 14 points. It would go on to outscoring each opponent in the second half by 25, 19 and 28, respectively.
Pearl said his team did not flinch at Saturday’s deficit.
“One the things I noticed was the guys weren't panicked, they weren't hollering at each other,” he said. “I didn’t see anybody laying down blame.”
The head coach credited assistant coach Steven Pearl, Bruce’s son, for how differently defensively Auburn played after a suggestion to move to zone defense.
After forcing just seven turnovers in the first half, Auburn forced twelve total in the second.
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“It was a tale of two halves,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “As well as we played in the first half, the second was the opposite.”
In addition to piling on turnovers, the Bulldogs’ only double-digit scorer, Yante Maten, was held to just seven shot attempts despite scoring a team-high 17.
Both head coaches agreed on the emphatic home-court advantage for Auburn.
“We just never got the building calmed down,” Fox added. “We got caught up in the emotion of the building.”
The crowded Auburn Arena, which sat 9,121 in the win, became fueled by both Brown’s 3-point barrage as well as Mustapha Heron’s second-half resurgence.
Heron, who finished the first half with one shot attempt, two fouls and a turnover, finished with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
Pearl made sure to get to Heron at halftime.
“I went to him at halftime and said this one coming out of the timeout is yours,” Pearl said. “You get a screen… and I want you to shoot the three. I don’t care if it’s contested or not.”
Heron made the shot, and gave Auburn a lead with an emphatic one-handed dunk over 6-foot-8 Derek Ogbeide. The ensuing and-one free-throw conversion had Auburn with its first lead since the opening minute.
"We could not win the game if Mustapha didn't come back and accept responsibility and he did," Pearl said. "I'm really proud of him for that."
Auburn finished shooting 42.1 percent despite shooting just 25 percent in the first half. In contrast, Georgia finished shooting 40.8 percent on the night after shooting 56 percent in the first.
After improving to 17-2 on the season, including a 5-1 SEC record, Pearl has a selection of film to watch in advance of Auburn’s late-night trip to Missouri on Jan. 24.
"That was as pretty of a 20 minutes of basketball as I've seen," Pearl said. "Really proud of the chemistry of the team. Not everybody had it tonight, but we had enough to get a great, great win."
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