AUBURN — This story may sound familiar to Auburn basketball fans. The 13th-ranked Tigers (7-0) followed a solid first-half performance by going cold on the offensive end as St. Louis (5-2) mounted a comeback with its own struggling offense. The Tigers failed to make a three-point shot in the second half and surrendered its lead to the Billikens, eventually trailing 58-53 with under three minutes remaining.
Then, like so many times before in Neville Arena, the Auburn attack came alive as the Tigers made five of their last six attempts during a 12-2 run, defeating St. Louis 65-60 and securing their 43rd consecutive home win over a non-conference opponent.
The late-game heroics were sparked by two K.D. Johnson layups and a textbook full-court pass to Allen Flanigan for a dunk to take the lead 59-58, and Auburn never gave it back.
"K.D. is a special athlete. He really is. I want him on the floor when it matters," said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. "He's going to get the 50-50 ball when it matters, and he's going to make plays. He's an incredible competitor."
Johnson finished the game with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting, while Flanigan led the team on the glass with 10 rebounds.
While it was the offense that came alive late, the Tigers' defense kept them in the game as the offense went cold in the second half and staved off any chance of a St. Louis response in the final minutes.
The Billikens were just 1-of-9 during the Tigers' 12-2 run, and they were not much better during the entire contest, shooting just 38% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc.
Leading the stout defense for the Tigers was none other than center John Broome once again. Broome has been a force on the defensive end since returning from injury, and he showed up again today with eight of the Tigers' 11 blocks.
"I was struggling," Broome said. "But I knew I had to make an impact on the game."
Broome's issues came on the offensive end. He finished the game just 4-of-14 from the field, though he was one of two Auburn players in double figures with 11 points.
The leader for the Auburn offense was Wendell Green Jr. once again. The star point guard was 5-of-7 in the first half and finished the game with 22 points, including the Tigers' final four points of the contest.
"We just had a little bit more. We had the best player on the floor tonight, Wendell Green," Pearl said. "He's special. Wendell's got great confidence, great poise and great preparation. He's not afraid of the moment. He relishes the moment."
Outside of Green, the offense was solid in the first half, shooting 46.7% from the field while shooting 34% in the second half, giving the team an overall percentage of 41% from the field. The Tigers continued to be cold from beyond the arc, going just 3-of-16 from the three-point line.
"There's a lot of reasons why we could've lost that game. Five games in 12 days. They're a good team," Pearl said. "But we found a way, and that's encouraging."
The difference in the game and the backbreaker for St. Louis came at the charity stripe as the team shot a season-low 29% from the free throw line, despite the team hitting 81% of its free throws throughout the start of the season.
Auburn was not perfect from the line, but they hit 64% of their free throws and made the shots they needed down the stretch. Auburn will have a long break after the five games in 12 days, and the Tigers will return to Neville Arena on Friday to take on Colgate.
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