Auburn, AL – The No.14 Auburn Tigers trailed the No.12 Kentucky Wildcats by as much as 17 points early in the second half, but still had a shot as time expired to tie the game. Jared Harper’s floater with 3.3 seconds left bounced off the backboard and around the rim, before falling to the floor and Kentucky escaped with an 82-80 road win.
Freshmen Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro each scored 20 points for Kentucky. Both players found success from every level. Herro finished 6-of-12 overall and 3-of-6 from distance, with catch and shoot makes from the corner and wing, as well as a dribble handoff curl that found him wide open late in the second half. He displayed great mechanics, lift and a quick release. He was also a perfect 5-of-5 from the charity stripe, including two free throws to take the lead with 24 seconds remaining. Johnson (7-of-11 FG, 2-5 3T and 4-7 FT) scored inside and outside for the Wildcats, including 11 first half points to stake Kentucky to 35-27 first half lead.
Auburn was without center Austin Wiley, who suffered his third lower leg injury within the last 16 months earlier this week. The Wildcats took advantage of this going inside to both Reid Travis and P.J. Washington. Travis took over most of the final ten minutes, at one point receiving five of six possessions in a row. He constantly backed down his defender on the block with back to the basket spin moves. The Tigers had no answer for Travis in the game, as both center Anfernee McLemore and forward/ center Horace Spencer fouled out. Travis finished with 17 points (6-7 FG/5-5 FT) and seven rebounds and Washington added 13 points (4-8 FG, 1-2 3PT, 4-7 FT) with seven rebounds.
Bryce Brown almost single-handedly brought Auburn back into the game. He finished the first half with only three points, being denied and pushed off the three-point line mostly due to the defensive effort of Herro. He found some openings in the second half, making a step back three, followed a three off a dribble handoff, and finally a catch and shoot three in transition to cut the Kentucky lead to 73-70 with just over four minutes left. He also added an impressive two-handed dunk on a back door cut. He finished with a game high 28 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field, including 6-of-7 from three. He had 25 second half points including five made three pointers. He also made all six of his free throw attempts. His on-ball defense held Kentucky PG Ashton Hagans to six points (2-4 FG). Hagans added seven rebounds and six assists, with three turnovers.
Auburn’s point guard Harper added 17 points on a poor shooting night going 5-of-13 from the field (2-6 3PT, 5-7 FT). He gave Auburn the lead on a pull-up three pointer with 31 seconds remaining. Harper had a difficult day getting past Hagans, with three turnovers and a number of other tipped passes. Malik Dunbar added 10 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes for Auburn, including 2-of-4 from distance, with both makes coming on catch and shoot opportunities on back to back possessions in the first half. Spencer added eight rebounds and two blocks for the Tigers, but struggled on offense with four turnovers and four points scored on two of four shooting, with a dump off dunk and a jump hook from close range. He suffered a head injury late due to a flagrant foul by Washington, but returned before fouling out.
Kentucky (14-3, 4-1) will return to Lexington to face Mississippi State on Tuesday, while Auburn (13-4, 2-2) will travel to face South Carolina also on Tuesday.