Jared Harper takes over as Auburn earns trip to semifinals


Two down. Two to go.

That was the message in the locker room following Auburn’s 73-64 win over South Carolina on Friday. With the victory, the Tigers advance to the semifinals of the SEC tournament for the first time since 2015 and for only the fifth time since 2000.

Auburn was led by guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown who responded with 46 combined points after the duo was held scoreless in the first half of Thursday’s game.

Harper, in particular, took over in the second half Friday. The junior point guard scored 19 of his 27 points in the final 20 minutes, including a stretch midway through where he scored nine straight to help the Tigers start to pull away. The majority of those points came from charity stripe where he made 12 of 14 free throws – all in the second half.

The second-team All-SEC selection also added six rebounds and six assists.

“Jared Harper stuffed the stat sheet,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “He had 27 points, but also led his team in rebounding, assists – led his team in so many ways. You cannot beat a South Carolina team that extends and puts that much pressure on you without a great point guard. They just didn’t have anybody that could stay in front of him.”

After scoring 17 in the second of Thursday’s game, Brown carried that over to Friday and finished with 19 points and five made 3s.

It was only fitting that Brown made the 3 late in the first half that helped this Auburn team become the most prolific 3-point shooting team in SEC history. The Tigers have now made 367 shots from long range, which is the most by any SEC team in one season.

“That means a lot,” Brown said. “It just goes back to our work ethic at the end of the day. We don’t just come out here jacking up shots. We actually spend a lot of time in practice, individually, and we spend a lot of time with each other trying to see how each other shoots and if it can help one another. I feel like that’s paying off now.”

Harper and Brown might have been the stars on Friday, but that shouldn’t take away from what the bench was able to do. They were the difference in Thursday’s game, and it was more of the same on Friday as the reserves outscored South Carolina’s bench, 25-2.

At this time of the year in March, a lot of coaches will shorten the bench because it’s one-and-done,” Pearl said. “We’re not going to go that way. We have to trust our bench.”

Sophomore Samir Doughty paced the Auburn bench with 10 points, five rebounds and three rebounds. Danjel Purifoy made two big 3s and played critical minutes with Chuma Okeke in foul trouble. And coming off arguably his best game of the season, senior Horace Spencer contributed five points, four rebounds and three blocks in the victory.

Even junior big man Austin Wiley saw the floor for the first time since Feb. 23 and added two points and a rebound in three minutes of action.

Next up for Auburn is a matchup against Florida, a team the Tigers beat in the regular season. The game is scheduled to tip off at noon CT on Saturday and will be televised on ESPN.

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