It took two overtimes, a 19-point second half comeback and a clutch three-point play from freshman Isaac Okoro, but No. 17 Auburn escaped with a historic 83-82 win on the road at Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
“What an amazing comeback,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “Adversity reveals character. I thought our team showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. Those seniors didn’t quit.”
Down 39-20 early in the second half, Auburn’s 19-point comeback is tied for the third largest in program history, and it’s the largest since the Tigers came back from 19 down to beat Mississippi State in 2014.
Senior Anfernee McLemore was pivotal in the second-half charge, scoring 14 of his career-high 19 points after halftime. McLemore knocked down back-to-back 3s during a 12-0 Auburn run that cut the lead to five and then hit another clutch shot from long range in the first overtime. He finished 6 of 12 from the field and 5 of 10 from beyond the arc.
“Anfernee McLemore really got things started,” Pearl said. “He made some big shots when we were way down and just played so hard. His ability to stretch the defense and pick and pop and make plays, what a difference. We were a much better team with him on the floor.”
Fellow senior Samir Doughty also proved clutch down the stretch. After a scoreless first half, Doughty finished with 17 points between the second half and both overtime periods, and it was his left-handed shot off the glass late in regulation that gave the Tigers their first lead since it was 2-0 in the opening minutes.
It was the freshman Okoro, though, who knocked down arguably the biggest shot of the night for Auburn.
Down two with less than two minutes remaining in the second overtime, Okoro drove in, drew a foul and made a tough shot off the glass with his right hand. The freshman, who earned the nickname “Ice” after a game-winning shot at South Alabama earlier this year, calmly knocked down the free throw to give the Tigers a 1-point lead that they never relinquished.
“At halftime, Bruce wanted to get the ball in my hands,” Okoro said. “He thought I wasn’t being as aggressive as I could be in the first half. So during that play, he just wanted me to get the ball downhill, drive it right and go and score, and that’s what I did.”
“There was no doubt he was getting it,” Pearl said. “He’s hard to stay in front of, and he’s really hard not to foul.”
Ole Miss had a shot blocked by Okoro on its next possession, and then after a miss by Auburn on the other end, the Rebels’ last-second 3-pointer clanged off the rim, sending the Tigers home with the victory.
Okoro finished with 14 points and matched a team-high with nine rebounds
Seniors Danjel Purifoy and J’Von McCormick also finished in double figures with 13 and 12 points respectively. Both made critical shots in the two overtime periods. Purifoy buried a corner 3 to put Auburn up one in the first overtime, and McCormick tied the game midway through the second overtime with a midrange jumper.
As a team, the Tigers shot 56 percent in the second half to climb back into the game. They also held Ole Miss star Breein Tyree to just eight points. Tyree, who came in leading the SEC with 18.9 points per game, fouled out with five minutes left in regulation.
“We’ve played 20 games. This is the 20th time that we’ve held the opponents’ leading scorer under his average,” Pearl said. “In this case, way under. Samir Doughty and Isaac Okoro are really good defenders.”
With the win, Auburn moves to 18-2 on the season and 5-2 in SEC play. The Tigers will return home Saturday to face No. 13 Kentucky at 5 p.m. CT inside Auburn Arena.