A frantic scene unfolded around Isaac Okoro in the final 27.6 seconds of Tuesday’s game at a sold-out Mitchell Center in Mobile.
Anfernee McLemore missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Samir Doughty tracked down the offensive rebound and found J’Von McCormick in the right corner, but he missed a 3. No. 22 Auburn trailed South Alabama by one point and was running out of chances.
But Doughty found his way to the loose ball again. And this time, as he fell out of bounds along the baseline, he found Okoro, the Tigers’ standout freshman, in traffic underneath the basket. The 6-foot-6 forward caught the pass, and with barely more than a second remaining, made a floater through contact.
That clutch bucket gave Auburn a 70-69 win over South Alabama in its first true road game of the season.
“(Head coach Bruce Pearl) just wanted us to calm down and not panic. Just, you know, play our game,” Isaac Okoro said on the Auburn Sports Network after the game. “We were going to get J’Von or Anfernee a shot, and everyone would crash the boards.
“They both missed their shots, but Danjel (Purifoy), Samir and Ant, they crashed the boards. Just a lot of effort on the rebounding part. Samir found me at the end of the game, and you know, I knew how much time was on the clock. I had to get my defender up and go up with the shot.”
It nearly wasn’t a happy ending for the Tigers (3-0). They led by 10 points with 5:03 to play after a Doughty layup and foul shot, then went through a scoreless stretch of 4 minutes and 21 seconds. South Alabama’s Andres Fox tied the game, 66-66, with 1:00 to play.
But Okoro shined in that final minute. He found space to dribble along the baseline and throw down a ferocious dunk with 42 seconds remaining that put the visitors back on top by two, and when Fox put the home team ahead with another 3-pointer, Okoro came through again.
“Isaac Okoro is not afraid,” Pearl said. “He is a special competitor, and if you don’t think I’m going to stay up late every single night trying to see how I can take full advantage of that young man, then you don’t know me very well.”
The freshman finished with a team-high 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting, six rebounds, a team-leading six assists, two blocks and two steals in 35 minutes.
“I won’t forget this game,” Okoro said.