Auburn downs Oklahoma 74-70 for best program start in 8 years


UNCASVILLE, Conn. – MVP T.J. Dunans, and Jared Harper each scored 21 points while Waterbury, Conn., native Mustapha Heron notched his second double-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four steals as Auburn defeated Oklahoma 74-70 in the Hall of Fame’s Birthday of Basketball on the 125th anniversary of the game in Mohegan Sun Arena on Wednesday.

Harper scored 16 of his points in the second half with some clutch free shots, finishing 11-of-12 from the line while Dunans scored 13 of his points in leading the Tigers to a 34-22 halftime lead.

Auburn improved to 9-2, its best start since 2007-08, while Oklahoma fell to 6-5. It was the Tigers’ second consecutive win over a Big 12 opponent this season, defeating Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge to end a six-game losing streak to the conference dating back to 1999.

“It’s a great win for our program,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. “Gosh, we really struggled offensively. We came out of the gates, and in the first three possessions, we went through three play calls for three days straight, and we got them all wrong. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I guess I started four freshmen, didn’t I?”

The Tigers started four freshmen in Danjel Purifoy, Heron, Harper and Austin Wiley for the first time since Feb. 18, 2006, in a 65-61 loss to No. 25 LSU. Korvotney Barber, Josh Dollard, Rasheem Barrett and Quantez Robertson started that game at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

Auburn jumped out to a 19-10 lead with a 15-5 run as the Tigers defense forced the Sooners to miss 19 of their first 23 shots. Auburn pushed its lead to 25-14 on a pair of Austin Wiley free throws.

Oklahoma closed to within seven with 2:07 left, but Auburn closed with a 7-3 run to lead 34-22 at the half, its largest in the opening period.

Purifoy, ranked fifth in the SEC averaging 16.5 points, picked up two fouls in less than four minutes and went to the bench for the remainder of the first half and picked up his third 40 seconds in to the third.

The Tigers stretched their lead to 45-28 on a 3-pointer by Danjel Purifoy, his first points of the game, at 16:11 left. Purifoy finished with six points and seven rebounds, all in the second half.

The Sooners answered with 13 straight points to close to within 45-41 as Auburn went scoreless for nearly six minutes. A 9-0 spurt with a Harper layup and 25-foot 3-pointer and Dunans conventional 3-point plays gave Auburn a 58-46 cushion with 6:51 to play.

“Everybody was happy and excited to get this win,” said Dunans, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday. “We played together as a team, and I’m really happy. It was a battlefield out there. Every play, I have scratches everywhere. I had to be physical out there tonight. I just tried to make the right play, making the right pass or scoring the ball.”

Oklahoma wouldn’t go away as the Sooners cut it to 60-55 at 4:39, but the Tigers kept them at bay by making 10-of-12 foul shots in the final 2:35, 7-of-8 by Harper, 2-of-2 by Heron while Dunans split a pair.

“It was a huge win against a good Big 12 team who is going to get to the (NCAA) Tournament,” said Heron, who is from Waterbury, Conn., 85 miles away. “I had a lot of fun playing at home. Just going out there and seeing the crowd and all of my supporters from high school. It was fun, and it was exciting and we got a great win.”

Auburn closes out a stretch of playing four games in nine days as it plays at UConn in the XL Center in Hartford on Friday at 1:30 pm CT on ESPN2. The Tigers will return home on Dec. 29 for the SEC opener against Georgia at 6 pm on ESPNU.COURTESY AUBURN SPORTS INFORMATION

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