NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bruce Pearl has been saying it all season long about his All-SEC backcourt tandem — really, since they became his starting backcourt two seasons ago — that it’s near-impossible for his team to win when Jared Harper and Bryce Brown don’t play well.
Through the Tigers’ first 20 minutes in Nashville, Pearl’s nightmare was becoming reality. After their 2018-19 All-SEC selections were included in the starting lineup festivities inside Bridgestone Arena, Brown and Harper were scoreless on 0-for-10 shooting in the first 20 minutes. That’s not to mention Chuma Okeke, Auburn’s most consistent player late in the season, played just four minutes in the opening half thanks to two fouls in the game’s first four minutes.
The start wasn’t just poor luck, either. It was uncharacteristically bad shooting for the guards.
Harper wasn’t just missing on his signature pull-up triples; he also missed two wide-open looks in the first half. Guard Samir Doughty air-balled an open chance in the first half. Brown, who finished the regular season ranked second in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage, air-balled a pair of jumpers early.
But Auburn lives and dies by its 3-point barrage. It’s been that way since Pearl’s arrival, and it’s not likely to change soon. Auburn is used to shooting its way out of cold stretches.
For Brown, it took all of 78 seconds for the senior to heat up — and make history.
With 14:30 left in the game, Brown called for the ball from Harper all the way up the floor in transition. He rose up on the left wing — a contested look — and buried his third triple in the span of 78 seconds, cupping his hand around his ear as the orange and blue crowd in Nashville roared.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Brown shook off his 0-for-6 start as fifth-seeded Auburn defeated 13-seed Missouri for Pearl’s first SEC Tournament win in four seasons, 81-71 Thursday afternoon.
In the process, Brown's 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting from deep moved him into fourth place in SEC history for 3-pointers made with 350, passing Tennessee’s Allan Houston (1989-93). His five made shots from beyond the arc also placed him first in Auburn history for most triples in a single season.
"(Teammates) do an unbelievable job of just supporting me, no matter if I miss 10 or make 10," Brown said. "They have the same feeling, same confidence in me no matter what. That's just kudos to them.
"Me as a leader, my last year, possibly my last tournament, SEC game, I have to keep on shooting, help my team win."
In the first half, Missouri picked up Harper and Brown at halfcourt nearly every possession down the floor, setting the tone early with physical on-ball defense.
Auburn’s backcourt couldn’t shake it, and the lack of rhythm from its primary ball-handlers messed with the Tigers’ offensive game plan. Brown said Missouri worked to run him off the 3-point line, but teams have been trying that tactic all season. He knew he would break through eventually.
"Nothing that I couldn't handle — me and Jared couldn't handle," Brown said. "Came down to making shots."
Harper never shook it, though, shooting 1-of-6 for the game with five points — his lowest scoring output since he posted just four points in a win over Arizona in late November.
"This might be the first big game we've won where Jared Harper didn't have to carry us," said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.
Auburn was being beaten at its own game early, starting 0-of-8 from deep until Anfernee McLemore hit the Tigers' first 3-pointer of the afternoon.
Missouri finished 15-of-29 from long range — the most 3-pointers allowed by Auburn this season. After a career-high 30 points Day 1 against Georgia, Mizzou senior guard Jordan Geist dropped a game-high 25 points on Auburn, including a 5-for-11 clip from downtown.
"He was sort of one of those players that if he was on your team, you'd love him," Pearl said of Geist. "If he was on the other team, he bothered you. I want to congratulate him on a great career."
McLemore also joined Okeke on the bench for a large portion of the first half, playing just eight minutes with a pair of fouls.
Auburn’s bench — namely, Horace Spencer — rose to the occasion in the Music City. Spencer was Auburn’s most efficient player all afternoon, finishing with 11 points and 10 boards, marking the first double-double of his career against a Division-I opponent.
Forward Danjel Purifoy played 20 minutes, his most since the Centreville, Alabama, product started at small forward two seasons ago. Samir Doughty and J'Von McCormick added eight and six off the bench, respectively.
"We're best when everybody contributes, Pearl said. "I think that's the danger of our team."
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman