MURRAY, Ky. — Needing someone to step up and hit big shots in a close game, Jared Harper accepted the challenge for Auburn.
The sophomore guard scored 11 of his 17 points in the final four minutes to help push the Tigers past Murray State 81-77 on Tuesday night for their ninth consecutive victory.
Trailing by a point, Harper hit three 3-pointers and added two free throws during a 13-4 run to pull away from the Racers. Auburn (10-1) finished 12 of 27 from behind the arc.
“It was anybody’s game,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Jared Harper just stepped up late and made some shots.”
Auburn welcomed Harper’s lift after having to play down the stretch with a depleted lineup.
Junior Horace Spencer was called for a flagrant-2 foul in the first half. Sophomore Anfernee McLemore left the game late with what Pearl described as a possible concussion.
“I was out there with a freshman in Chuma Okeke and four guards, and managed to find a way,” Pearl added. “A great character win for our program.”
Desean Murray led the Southeastern Conference Tigers with 18 points and nine rebounds. Harper made 4 of 6 from long range and all five free throws. Mustapha Heron added 16 points and Bryce Brown 15.
The Tigers’ perimeter shooting helped them finish 42 percent (27 of 64) from the field.
Terrell Miller Jr. had 24 points and 15 rebounds for Murray State (7-3). Jonathan Stark had 21 points, while Jalen Dupree and Leroy “Shaq” Buchanan each had 10 points. The Racers shot just 38 percent.
“I thought our guys really competed at a high level for 40 minutes,” Racers head coach Matt McMahon said. “I was really proud of our fight there. At the end of the game it was a tie game, you just have to tip your cap to Harper. Those were some incredible shots, I don’t know what we could’ve done differently.”
Auburn: Two runs were key in the win. The first was a 12-3 run that helped build a 42-36 halftime lead before closing the game with a 15-4 surge. Auburn was out-rebounded for the first time this season 44-39, and Pearl said Murray State came out and punched them in the mouth. “A lesser character team could’ve folded, and we didn’t,” he added.
Murray State: Facing a school nationally ranked in the top 10 in offensive rebounding, the Racers allowed just 13 offensive boards.
The CFSB Center has never hosted a Power 5 conference team, and the last time the Racers hosted a major conference opponent was in 1993. Pearl said tight contests such as this are why major teams don’t schedule road games against mid-major schools such as Murray State, an Ohio Valley Conference member.
Pearl viewed things differently.
“Nobody wants to schedule a loss, but I looked at it as scheduling an opportunity,” Pearl said. “If I can’t go on the road and beat Murray State in a close game, how in the world am I going to Tennessee and win? You’ve gotta give it a shot.”
Auburn returns home to take on Connecticut on Saturday. The Tigers defeated the Huskies 70-67 in overtime last season.
Murray State travels north to Detroit-Mercy in its non-conference finale on Friday night.