No. 8 Auburn defeats MSU, 80-68, in SEC opener

With an assortment of 3-pointers, second-chance buckets and free throws, J’Von McCormick scored a career-high 28 points to lead No. 8 Auburn to an 80-68 win Saturday in the Tigers’ SEC opener.

“He took over,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We gave him the keys to the car and he drove it. He’s leading our team. He’s leading off the court, he’s leading on the court. He’s leading with his work ethic.”

All five Auburn starters scored in double figures. Isaac Okoro scored 16, Samir Doughty scored 13, Danjel Purifoy scored 11 and Austin Wiley added 10.

McCormick scored 20 in the second half, making 8 of 11 free throws while adding four rebounds to lead Auburn to victory in a venue where wins have been elusive. The Tigers won at Humphrey Coliseum for the third time since 2001.

One of two unbeaten teams in the country, Auburn improved to 13-0 (1-0), winning for the 25th time in 26 games.

“That’s big for us, starting off SEC play 1-0,” McCormick said. “Coming here, knowing we were going to be faced with a challenge.”

Auburn built a nine-point lead to start the second half by scoring four points seconds apart. After Okoro’s fast-break reverse layup, McCormick stole the inbounds pass and scored instantly to put Auburn up 33-24.

McCormick’s 3-pointer, Auburn’s first of the game after 12 misses, gave the Tigers a 10-point lead, 36-26. Wiley’s left-handed hook shot extended the lead to 12 points at the 16:24 mark.

“That’s what we work on all the time,” McCormick said. “Just repetition. I knew one of them was going to fall, so I just needed to keep shooting and that gave us a spark.”

State pulled within two, but Purifoy scored the next eight points on a pair of 3-pointers and a transition putback to restore Auburn’s double-digit advantage with 7:58 left.

Purifoy, Doughty and Okoro led Auburn with eight rebounds apiece, limiting State’s advantage on the boards to 46-44.

“It was very important,” Okoro said. “Just putting a body on them. It started our fast breaks and that’s how we got most of our points.” Auburn enjoyed a 24-13 advantage in fast-break points.

“Our three starting guards did a tremendous job defensively,” Pearl said. “It’s been a different guy for us every night. Tonight, J’Von McCormick was brilliant. Samir Doughty’s defense was incredible. Isaac Okoro did not play like a freshman at all. He was one of the best players on the floor.”

Auburn led 29-24 at halftime after outscoring State 20-6 to close the first half.

Okoro’s 3-point play ended State’s 7-0 run, starting a 9-0 Auburn run. 

McCormick’s baseline jumper capped the run, tying the game at 18-18.

McCormick’s assist on Okoro’s transition dunk gave Auburn a 21-20 lead to start an 8-0 Auburn run late in the half. McCormick hit a floater in the lane and a layup before Doughty’s fast-break bucket gave Auburn its largest lead, 29-22 with 38 seconds left.

McCormick, Doughty and Okoro each scored eight in the half for Auburn, which led by five despite missing all 11 3-point attempts.