ATHENS, Ga. — Without its leading scorer, Auburn’s two other star guards each played a lead role in each half.
Jared Harper dominated the first half and Mustapha Heron poured in baskets in the second half to give eighth-ranked Auburn its seventh road win of the season.
“He has a great rhythm to his game and range on his jump shot,” Pearl said of Harper following the Tigers 10th win away from Auburn Arena this season. “It’s his trust in his teammates. It’s his play-calling. It’s his defense. It’s his will to win that I think separates him.”
It didn’t take Harper long to realize Georgia had nobody to guard him. The sophomore point guard, who is from nearby Atlanta, poured in 14 first-half points, including 10 in the first six minutes. That helped lead the Tigers to a 78-61 road win. Harper finished with a game-high 24 points and seven assists in 25 minutes.
While Auburn’s leading scorer, Bryce Brown, sat and watched in a sweat suit, Harper drove around every defender and defense that Georgia head coach Mark Fox tried Saturday afternoon.
Brown was ruled out for Saturday after suffering a severe shoulder strain in the first half of the home loss Wednesday night to Texas A&M, but the Tigers (22-3, 10-2 SEC) didn’t need him.
On a day where four teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 lost to unranked teams before the second half of this contest began, Auburn refused to be added to that total. Auburn shot 50.9 percent and got 14 layups and eight dunks against a Georgia defense that came into the game ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in field goal percentage defense.
“Certainly disappointed in our effort defensively,” Fox said. “It starts with guarding the basketball. You have to be able to guard the dribble. Jared (Harper) is a really good player, shot the ball well but I thought we gave him some real easy looks in the first half. ... Give the kid credit.”
While Auburn struggled to hit only one field goal in the first seven minutes of the second half, Heron took over with a couple of big shots, including a 3-point play with 9:53 left that kept Auburn’s lead to double digits in front of a Stegeman Coliseum crowd with a noticeable orange and blue contingent of fans. Heron ended with 19 points.
“They were building something (in the second half) but we needed to get to the foul line and disrupt their momentum,” Heron said. “That and-one right there kept everything OK.”
In Brown’s absence, Malik Dunbar and Davion Mitchell combined for 14 points and three shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
The win Saturday marked only Auburn’s second win inside Stegeman Coliseum since 2010 and first season home-and-home sweep of the Bulldogs program since 2000.
“I think the way we play hard, if teams don’t come hard, I don’t think they’re going to beat us,” Heron said. “I think that’s something that travels — playing hard with effort.”
Georgia (13-11, 4-8 SEC), which has lost six of its last seven games, was led by a 20-point effort from preseason All-SEC selection Yante Maten but similar to Auburn’s comeback win over UGA at home, the 6-foot-8 post player only got four field goal attempts in the second half.
“Once I get going, most teams are going to bring a guy from the backside to double so I can’t get a post touch,” Maten said. “We just have to hit our looks when they come.”
Auburn will host No. 24 Kentucky on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.