Bryce Brown scored 24 points to help Auburn secure a second-straight 20-win season in Saturday's 80-75 victory over Mississippi State.
"We just beat a really good basketball team," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "We played very well early. We made shots, we defended, we got some tough rebounds. To hold Mississippi State to 25 points in the first half and to turn them over 18 times in the game was really critical."
Brown and Anfernee McLemore combined to make 9-of-14 three pointers. McLemore scored Auburn's opening three on his way to 14 points, earning admiration from Mississippi State coach Ben Howland.
"His threes were huge," Howland said. "He's shooting with a lot of confidence. Give him credit. He's really worked on his game."
"You see a few go in, I just feel a lot of confidence," said McLemore, who spent his Friday evening in the gym with Brown practicing their outside shot. "The more you shoot, the more confident you get."
Auburn led from start to finish building a 19-point lead with 6:20 remaining in the game before a 17-2 Bulldog run trimmed the Tigers' lead to four at 71-67. Brown's corner three-pointer with 1:09 left effectively served as a dagger, restoring Auburn's lead to seven.
"It gave us the breathing room that we needed," Pearl said.
"It sucked all the energy out of them and lifted us up as a team," Brown said. "After that point, we had momentum to finish the game. I work on it so much, it has no choice but to get better."
The Tigers won despite being out rebounded 41-21. Chuma Okeke led Auburn with seven rebounds and had 11 points on the night.
Continuing to value possessions, the Tigers committed 10 turnovers while forcing 18. Jared Harper spearheaded that effort, dishing nine assists without a turnover in 36 minutes.
"Jared Harper played great," Pearl said. "Back-to-back games where Jared quarterbacked us, captained us. Played really good defensively.
It was great to see Bryce catching and sticking. Played with real efficiency and he was solid on the defensive end. It's one of the better games that Bryce has played, and it was timely. We got a lot of contributions."
Auburn led 33-25 at halftime thanks to a 10-0 advantage in points off turnovers. In the half the Tigers forced 10 Bulldog turnovers while committing only two. That helped Auburn overcome State's 22-12 rebounding edge.
Quinndary Weatherspoon scored a game-high 25 for Mississippi State. Tyson Carter added 21.
Heading into the last week of the regular season, Auburn has already achieved back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 1998-2000.
"We've had good players and we've had a great home-court advantage and great fans," Pearl said. "I'm big on history. It's not happened often. I'm proud of that."
"It means a lot, knowing where the program has come from," Brown said. "I feel like these last couple years, we've just changed that around. Twenty-win seasons, I want that to be a normal thing for us now."
Auburn plays Alabama Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Tuscaloosa, seeking a season sweep of its in-state rival. The Tigers beat the Crimson Tide 84-63 on the Plains on Feb. 2.
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