No. 22 Auburn opens SEC tournament with 81-71 win over Missouri


Seniors Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer have been at Auburn since 2015, and neither one knew what it felt like to experience a win in the SEC tournament. They were one-and-done in three previous conference tournaments.

Not this year. The senior duo helped carry No. 22 Auburn to an 81-71 win over Missouri on Thursday in the second round of the SEC tournament.

“It definitely felt good getting our first SEC tournament win.” Brown said. “It took me four years. My fourth match, my fourth year. I just have to give everything to my teammates. The coaches trusted me with the ball. My teammates trusted me.

“Me and Horace are going to do everything we can to make sure this team doesn’t go out on a sad note. We want to end our senior season on a strong note.”

Brown started cold from the floor and finished without a point in the first half. But once the lid came off the basket and the first 3-pointer went down, he couldn’t miss. The senior knocked down three 3s in less than 90 seconds to give Auburn a 10-point lead early in the second half, and he finished with a team-high 17 points on 5 of 10 shooting from long range.

“Bryce is a microwave,” teammate Anfernee McLemore said. “We see that all the time in practice. He can miss 20 in a row, and the next 40 are going in. He’s such a good shooter. That’s just how good he is. We expect the next one to go in every time.”

Brown also made history Thursday night when he made his fifth 3-pointer of the game. It gave him 109 3s on the season, which is a new Auburn single-season record.

But as good as Brown was in that second half, it’d be hard to find a more valuable player for Auburn in Thursday’s game than Spencer. The senior big man came off the bench and provided 11 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and four steals. When the rest of the team was struggling in the first half, it was Spencer who kept the Tigers in the game with his effort alone.

“Energy, offensive rebounding, physicality, toughness, courage,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said when asked about Spencer’s impact. “He knows who he is. He had some big plays. He made his free throws. He had blocks and steals. He’s so athletic and experienced. I’m really happy for Horace. We don’t win without him.”

It wasn’t just Spencer either. It was the whole bench. Samir Doughy scored eight points. J’Von McCormick played critical minutes when point guard Jared Harper got in foul trouble and finished with six points. Danjel Purifoy added five points and four rebounds in 20 minutes.

How important was that group? In the first half, Brown and Harper failed to score a point. Sophomore big man Chuma Okeke played only four minutes due to foul trouble. And yet, the Tigers still took a 32-30 lead into the locker room because of the play from the bench.

Though Okeke only played 20 minutes, he was still second on the team with 12 points and five rebounds. Fellow starter Malik also scored in double figures with 11.

For Auburn, it’s on to South Carolina – a team that has had their number of late. The Gamecocks won the only meeting between the two sides this year, 80-77, in Columbia. But the Tigers are happy to get that first SEC tournament win since 2014 and to live to play another day.

“In a tournament setting, the first one is always the hardest game,” Harper said. “We’re glad to get that one under our belt. We’re just looking to make history and continue to win.”

Friday’s quarterfinal game from Bridgestone Arena will tip off 30 minutes following the conclusion of the first game, which starts at noon CT, and will be televised on ESPN.

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