A career-high in points by Isaac Okoro and overtime was barely enough for the No. 14 Auburn Tigers to outlast Furman in a thrilling contest inside Auburn Arena.
The Tigers were able to narrowly edge the Paladins, 81-78, pushing the team to 8-0, which is the best team start since the 1998-’99 season.
Never able to establish much rhythm offensively, the Tigers struggled to buy a bucket throughout the contest. The team missed 21 three pointers, 10 free throws and turned the ball over 19 times in 45 minutes of game time.
“We weren’t particularly sharp,” said head coach Bruce Pearl. “We got a ways to go. We about got beat. We are fortunate to have survived.”
To open the game, Auburn missed all of its first five shots. It took the team almost four minutes to put points on the board, tying the game at two apiece.
The Freshman Okoro led most of the offensive charge in the first half, scoring a team high nine points on three-of-five shooting. Allen Flanigan also added six points on a perfect 3-3 shooting.
In the first half, all of the Tiger’s points came from layups or free throws, except for a lone 3-pointer by Jamal Johnson, which was the only make out of nine attempts.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Regular scoring leader Samir Doughty was ice cold in the first, missing all four of his 3s and only scoring one bucket and a free throw. J’Von McCormick was also unable to score much, only posting two points on 1-for-4 shooting.
With about four minutes to play in the first, the Tigers found themselves down for the third time in the half, down 31-30. Behind three clutch 3-pointers by Furman, a top-15 three point shooting team, Auburn went into the locker room down 39-31.
Fifty-four percent of Furman’s offense came from 3-point makes in the first, while 77% of Auburn’s offense came from under the rim.
To start the second half, things got ugly for the Tigers. Furman drained a 3 to open, Wiley missed another free throw and Doughty missed his fifth straight 3. The poor play, mixed together with the teams distaste for the officiating, found head coach Pearl earning a technical foul at midcourt.
Four minutes into the second half and the Tigers were down 14.
Auburn’s answer then came in the form of big man Austin Wiley and later, Okoro.
Wiley was dominant on both sides of the basketball, notching a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. The team also added three blocks in the second half and forced Furman into 15 turnovers.
Okoro was relatively quiet in the second, only scoring three but did come down with four rebounds, two on the defensive side.
Down 61-53 with six minutes left, Auburn needed answers. Wiley was clutch from down low and forced plenty of misses on the defensive side, while McCormick had two athletic layups to suddenly put the Tigers at a tied game with 14 seconds remaining.
“Austin made some nice individual plays,” Pearl said.
With 5 seconds remaining, McCormick took the inbounds pass and turned on the jets to drive right to the rim. Twisting around the defender in the air, the point guard threw a layup behind his head that narrowly didn’t fall. It was time for overtime.
Tied at 66 going into overtime, it was time for Okoro to shine. The highly touted freshman led the scoring charge with six points, four of which coming from the charity stripe. The same free-throw shooting that had plagued the Tigers in regular time, changed the course of this game in overtime.
With three minutes left, Austin Wiley caught his own rebound, slammed it back for a score and a foul and Auburn found itself up 71-69. He turned around and got a block on the other end and Okoro turned it into another and-one situation.
After a Danjel Purifoy layup, Auburn was up 75-69 and Furman was never able to come back.
“We had a great second-half defense,” Pearl said. “We didn’t panic. We knew what was at stake. It took a couple guys playing really well to win that game.”
Auburn will go on another extended break before they face off against St. Louis in Birmingham on Dec. 14.
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