It looked, for a moment, like Auburn might be in for a repeat of last week’s loss at Arkansas.
It built a double-digit first-half lead. No. 12 Missouri nearly erased it by halftime, then did in the second half. The visitors went from being down by as many as 14 to up by as many as seven.
But Bruce Pearl’s team — the youngest in the SEC — is growing up. It proved that with a 88-82 victory over the oldest in the conference.
Here are three things we learned:
1. Foul trouble is the only thing that can slow Sharife Cooper down
The five-star freshman point guard picked up his third foul with 5:06 remaining in the first half. Auburn (10-7, 4-5 SEC) sat him until the 17:07 mark of the second half. That’s a big reason why Missouri (10-3, 4-3) was able to erase its deficit — the home team went from up eight to down four during that stretch.
But the second Cooper checked back in, the complexion of the game changed completely. Auburn bounced back from a slow start to the second half (1-for-3 shooting, four turnovers) to go on a 9-5 run that tied the game. Cooper had an offensive rebound and a bucket during that stretch, and he threw a pass that led to two free throws.
He finished with a career-high-tying 28 points on 5-for-12 shooting (and an 18-for-21 mark from the free throw line) to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists. He finished plus-20 in a game Auburn won by six.
2. The bench is coming up huge
Freshman Chris Moore hit all four of his shot attempts, including three 3-pointers, on his way to a career-high 11 points. And he was just a small part of a standout showing from an Auburn bench that outscored Missouri’s 34-22.
Allen Flanigan found Javon Franklin for two key buckets with Cooper off the floor late in the first half. Devan Cambridge and Dylan Cardwell scored eight points each, with the latter hitting 6 of 7 free throws.
Babatunde Akingbola scored only three points, but he provided much more than that with five of Auburn’s season-high-tying 14 blocked shots.
3. Auburn has quietly become a much better free-throw shooting team
This was a problem area for Pearl’s team early in the season. It shot 36.4 percent from the charity stripe in the loss at UCF and 70 percent or worse in eight of its first nine games overall. At one point, it ranked outside the top-300 nationally.
Missouri’s veteran, physical defense — which entered leading the SEC in opponent field goal percentage — committed 31 fouls. That led to 44 free throw attempts. Auburn hit 36. That’s 81.8 percent.
It marks the seventh time in the last eight games that Auburn has hit at least 71 percent from the foul line.