NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Energy. Offensive rebounding. Physicality. Toughness. Courage. Athletic. Experienced.
Those were just a few key words Auburn coach Bruce Pearl used in describing what Horace Spencer brought to the table in Auburn’s 81-71 tournament win over Missouri, even stressing that "(the Tigers) don't win without him.”
Early on in the matchup, Auburn was in trouble. The Tigers were struggling and with Chuma Okeke and Anfernee McLemore picking up two quick fouls, Auburn needed an answer.
That answer was Spencer.
Spencer rose to the occasion in attempt to secure his first SEC Tournament win as a Tiger.
“It was really good to get a first win, SEC tournament,” Spencer said. “We just wanted to come here, get one win, move onto the next one, get another win, just keep going. It feels good, me and Bryce getting our first win. My team is in a really good spot. We have really good chemistry. We're going to keep that going throughout the tournament.”
The senior big man provided the spark off the bench needed to lift Auburn over a Missouri lead that lasted over 10 minutes into the first half.
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Spencer’s game is largely built around defense, and his defense was in postseason form with a season-high four blocks and four steals that tied a career high.
“My focus is really on defense,” Spencer said. “The ball just came to me, it just came to me the way it did. I wasn't really focused on my offense. I was focused open helping my guard, slipping through the ball screens, trying to protect the paint, be a presence in the paint, take care of defense.”
Despite that focus on defense, Spencer added a spark on offense as well. Spencer would be one of four Tigers to score in double-figures, securing his third double-digit scoring output of the season.
Spencer’s performance on the offensive glass was one of his best showings of his career, as well, with six of his 10 rebounds coming on the offensive end – good enough for the second-most in his career against a D-1 opponent. His 10 rebounds were just the fourth time he has eclipsed the double-digit mark in his career.
Though Spencer was the main source of spark from the bench, he was not all who had a positive contribution with Bryce Brown and Jared Harper struggling to find the bottom of the net and Okeke only playing four minutes in the first half.
Danjel Purifoy, J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty were efficient contributors off the bench, posting positive plus/minus ratings and scoring a nearly a third of Auburn’s points at the half.
Purifoy was thrown into the fire after Okeke picked up his second foul after just four minutes and played 16 of his 20 minutes in the first half.
“Danjel played maybe 16 minutes in the first half,” Pearl said. “He played a lot. The fact that he was in shape to be able to play that many minutes, the fact that his teammates trusted him to be able to be out there. Then the second half he made a big shot that really made a difference. He had a really nice slip, made some good passes. We're best when everybody contributes. I think that's the danger of our team.”
The contributions from the bench was ultimately the difference maker in Auburn’s first tournament win since 2015.
“This might be the first big game we've won where Jared Harper didn't have to carry us,” Harper said. “Missouri did a good job defensively on both Bryce and Jared. A lot of pressure on Jared to run the club, my biggest communicator defensively. He's a leader. Just was a little off tonight. Missouri had something to do with that. The fact we could win without him having a big game was huge.”
Auburn will look to continue its momentum into its Quaterfinals matchup against South Carolina on Friday.
The last time Auburn and South Carolina met, the Tigers fell just short, 80-77, and are just 1-4 in the last five meetings against South Carolina.
“Frank Martin has my number, not just my phone number but my number,” Pearl said. “What they do defensively bothers us. They extend. Makes it hard to run your stuff. You overplay. They're physical, they're tough. Silva is a major factor, how the officials referee him is huge. He's so active, athletic, bouncy. He gets himself into some trouble, he draws a lot of fouls. Draws a lot of contact. I remember we had a chance when we went to South Carolina. Had a couple last possessions. They got the better of us.”
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