AUBURN — In what Bruce Pearl called a “must-win” game, the Tigers (18-8, 8-5 SEC) not only defeated but completely dominated Missouri (19-7, 7-6 SEC) in a wire-to-wire victory at Neville Arena Tuesday night. Auburn jumped out to a 19-2 first-half lead against the Tigers of the SEC East, and from there the result was rarely in doubt. Auburn is back in the win column after an impressive 89-56 victory, as the road to the NCAA Tournament continues.
“This was a game we had to win,” said junior forward Johni Broome. “Everybody came out and put in the effort to get after it.”
Before the victory, Auburn was reeling with three-straight losses and five out of its last six. The issues that led to the slump were widespread, from stagnant offense and turnovers to lackluster bench production and struggling to finish games. With the team needing a response, the entire roster stepped up and delivered one of its best performances of the year.
“We played really well tonight,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. “I was really proud of the guys because they’ve worked so hard the last couple weeks, we’ve played better, but with no reward. We literally won every position tonight.”
The bench, which had only scored 65 points across the last five losses, mustered 33 during the win. K.D. Johnson led the way with a team-leading 14 first-half points, giving him 5 games with 10 or more points in the last six games. Johnson finished the game with 15 points in 20 minutes along with three steals.
“We just took whatever they gave us,” Johnson said. “Hopefully it went in, and it went in tonight, and we got the W. We needed this one. We got this for [Coach Pearl], our team and our fans.”
Lior Berman had his best performance since the LSU game, dropping eight points on 3-of-4 shooting downtown and Dylan Cardwell racked up eight points and 10 rebounds, tied for the most on the team.
On a night when Auburn brought back Rex Frederick, still the holder of the program record for rebounds in a game, Auburn took complete control of the glass. Behind the combined efforts of Cardwell and Johni Broome, Auburn outrebounded Missouri 48-26, including 16-7 on the offensive glass. Broome finished the game with 20 points to go with his 10 rebounds, all in just 21 minutes.
“We need Johni to be dominant on the inside,” Pearl said. “We had an advantage at the five position tonight. We dominated the five spot, which we needed to.”
Part of the rebounding advantage came from a complete shutdown of the Mizzou attack, led by Broome in the middle and Allen Flanigan at the wing. The Tigers of the SEC East, winners of five of their last six before Tuesday night, shot 26% in the first half, including no makes from beyond the arc, and just 31% percent overall.
The Tigers' only success on offense came from hitting 83% of their free throws. Sean East II led with 14 points, but he was also 5-of-13 from the field. Missouri’s leader this season has been Kobe Brown, but the senior guard was held to just seven points in 25 minutes, thanks in part to the defense of Allen Flanigan.
Flanigan matched his tenacity on defense with efficiency on offense, rounding out Auburn’s trio of double-digit scorers with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting. The team as a whole was very efficient across the floor, shooting 48.5 from the field and 50% from 3-point range.
“I’m glad we shot the ball better,” Pearl said. “That’s got a chance to give us a little bit of confidence moving forward.”
With that confidence, Auburn will look to build its resume again, with only six games remaining on the schedule.
“Our guys care about trying to make history,” Pearl said. “We want to get to the NCAA Tournament. This helps but we’ve still got work to do.”
Auburn will turn around for another test on the road, traveling up to Nashville for Saturday, February 18 clash with Vanderbilt(14-12, 7-6 SEC). The Tigers and the Commodores will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CST SEC Network.
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