Auburn survives scare from Missouri in first game at No. 1

Jan 25, 2022, 5:49 AM | Updated: 9:01 pm
Auburn's Dylan Cardwell, center, pulls down a rebound in front of Missouri's Kobe Brown, left, and ...

Auburn's Dylan Cardwell, center, pulls down a rebound in front of Missouri's Kobe Brown, left, and Jarron Coleman, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — K.D. Johnson scored 17 points, including five straight within the final 90 seconds, and No. 1 Auburn survived a scare from Missouri, winning 55-54 on Tuesday night in the program’s first-ever game as the nation’s top-ranked team.

Johnson converted a three-point play with 1:29 remaining to put Auburn ahead 53-51, then added a layup with 45 seconds left for a four-point advantage, and the Tigers (19-1, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) held on from there.

“We weren’t having a great offensive game in the last few minutes, and I was just trying to make a play for my team,” said Johnson, a 6-foot sophomore guard. “I came through in the clutch.”

Walker Kessler had 13 points and 12 rebounds for Auburn, which shot 30% from the field but had 25 offensive rebounds.

Johnson also scored 17 points in the victory over Kentucky on Saturday that elevated Auburn to the No. 1 ranking.

“Late in the game, K.D. is a dangerous man,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “He’s not afraid of the moment.”

Javon Pickett led Missouri (8-11, 2-5) with 17 points, and Jaron Coleman added 10.

Missouri got off to a roaring start, opening a 10-point lead in the first six minutes while Auburn missed 10 of its first 11 shots. Auburn star freshman Jabari Smith — a potential top pick in this year’s NBA draft — scored three points in the first half as the teams went into halftime tied at 31.

Smith finished with five points on 2-of-15 shooting, although he contributed 10 rebounds. He also played solid defense on Missouri star Kobe Brown, who finished with eight points of 4-of-11 shooting.

“We can win when Jabari Smith doesn’t have a great offensive night,” Pearl said. “Missouri can’t win when Kobe Brown doesn’t have a great offensive night.”

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

After Pickett made a 3-pointer to cut Auburn’s lead to one point with 35 seconds left, Auburn had the ball with only a 5-second difference between the shot clock and game clock. Missouri didn’t foul. Johnson missed a shot just before the shot clock expired, but Kessler kept the rebound alive with a tip and the ball squirted out of bounds as time ran out.

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin was asked why he didn’t instruct his team to foul early in the possession.

“It was little over five seconds on the clock, let’s get the rebound and push the ball up the floor,” Martin said.

INJURY

Auburn’s Wendell Green Jr. injured his right knee in a collision with Missouri’s Yaya Keita with 13:18 left in the game. Green, who was called for a charge on the play, went to the locker room but later returned. Green entered the game as Auburn’s third-leading scorer at 13.0 points per game. He finished with six points.

BIG PICTURE

Auburn: The Tigers discovered the top ranking comes with a target. The student section at Mizzou Arena was full for one of the few times this season, and Missouri’s players were inspired.

“We didn’t play very well and we didn’t play a great team, but they score (an average of) 72 points at home, and they scored 54 tonight,” Pearl said. “For us to hold that team 18 points under their average at home, that tells you that obviously we took them seriously. To get 25 offensive rebounds, we obviously played hard. We just didn’t play very well, and they had a lot to do with it. It’s not that we weren’t ready to play.”

Missouri: After being overmatched earlier in the season against Kansas, Illinois and Kentucky — the average margin of defeat in those games was 33 points — Missouri has been more competitive in recent weeks. It beat Alabama and Mississippi and led for extended periods in losses to Texas A&M, Alabama (the rematch) and Auburn.

UP NEXT

Auburn: Hosts Oklahoma on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Missouri: At No. 23 Iowa State on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

___

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