OXFORD, Miss. — Auburn may not appreciate this kind of win until after the season is over.
The Tigers won a road Southeastern Conference game that league champions and NCAA tournament top seeds normally point toward after the season as critical. They didn’t shoot it particularly well. Auburn allowed 34 points in the paint and committed 21 fouls but the No. 11 Tigers escaped with a 79-70 win — its first at Ole Miss since 2008.
Auburn (20-2, 8-1 SEC) won just its third game of the 2017-18 season without hitting 40 percent of its shots and now has a two-game lead in the SEC standings after Florida’s loss at Georgia on Tuesday night. Auburn picked up its sixth win away from home this season thanks to a defensive effort that forced 17 turnovers and an incredible effort on 19 offensive rebounds.
Tuesday night was the first time Auburn had won in Oxford since Pearl arrived in Auburn and only its second win in the last 12 attempts against Ole Miss. The last road victory over the Rebels came in a building that doesn’t exist anymore. Auburn defeated Ole Miss 90-78 in Tad Smith Coliseum on Feb. 16, 2008.
Auburn guard Bryce Brown scored had 19 of his game-high 23 points in a second half where he shot 8 of 12 from the field and played 32 minutes. While he didn’t shoot it well, Jared Harper had seven assists and just one turnover in 35 minutes of leading an Auburn offense that only got two fast break points.
In his first game since being named SEC Player of the Week for the second time this season, Mustapha Heron had 16 points and six rebounds.
Auburn survived a sloppy first half where it allowed 22 points in the paint and only shot 36 percent from the floor by nailing six 3-point shots and forcing 10 Ole Miss turnovers.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy decided to go with a four-guard lineup Tuesday night in order to push the tempo on one of the nation’s highest paced offensive attacks but new starter Markel Crawford was held to two first-half points and eventually Ole Miss had to dial back the aggression.
The Rebels hit only 5 of 21 shots from beyond the 3-point arc despite giving Auburn its first look at Deandre Burnett. The Rebels' leading scorer didn’t make the trip to Auburn on Jan. 9 due to flu-like symptoms before the Tigers' 85-70 come-from-behind win but didn’t get much help Tuesday night. Nobody else besides Burnett was in double figures with 2:21 left in the game. Burnett led the Rebels with 16 points.
Auburn, which is a consistent No. 2 seed in most NCAA tournament projected brackets, has its 10th 20-win season in program history and will return home Saturday to play Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.