AUBURN — For one night only Auburn proved it doesn’t need to consistently make shots to win a basketball game.
At least not for nearly the first nine minutes of it.
The Tigers were 1 of 16 from the field but because of solid halfcourt defense, aggressive rebounding and Kentucky’s overall offensive ineptitude, Auburn only found itself down by a single bucket in a game it would go on to win 76-66.
Due to Kentucky having more turnovers than field goals for most of the first half, the Wildcats (17-9, 6-7 SEC) again struggled to find consistent offense and were outscored 35-23 over the final 12 minutes of a sloppy first half to take their 11th halftime deficit this season into the locker room.
Auburn finally settled itself down to create offense as Jared Harper found driving holes toward the basket. The sophomore point guard, who leads the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio, finished with a team-high 18 points and seven assists in 36 minutes. Bryce Brown, who returned from a severe shoulder strain that forced him to miss Auburn’s 78-61 win at Georgia Saturday, led another balanced attack from the Tigers with two 3-point shots in the first half. Auburn’s leading scorer, who still stands as a favorite for the SEC Player of the Year honors, finished with 18 points.
After missing its first nine attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, Auburn (23-3, 11-2 SEC) made six of their last eight 3-point attempts in the first half, including two from Anfernee McLemore as Kentucky’s post players failed to extend their defense. The 6-foot-7 sophomore ended with a double-double by totaling 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Kentucky got 19 points from Kevin Knox as the projected first round pick in the upcoming NBA draft connected on 7 of 13 from the field but only made two baskets in the second half.
With the victory, Auburn is still two games up on Tennessee in the league standings with only five regular season contests left to play.
The Tigers, who won just the second game in their last 21 attempts against Kentucky, won back-to-back home games against the Wildcats for the first time since 1990.
Auburn will next travel to Colonial Life Arena on Saturday in an attempt to get its 11th win away from home against a rebuilding South Carolina program.