Korvotney Barber tied a career high with 22 points to lead Auburn to a 75-60 victory over Missouri State before 5,148 in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum Friday in the season opener for both teams.
The Tigers used an 11-2 run to take a 63-53 lead with 5:14 to play after the Bears closed to within 52-51 with 9:13 left. Missouri State could only get to within 67-60 with just under two minutes to play before Auburn scored the final eight points of the game.
"Obviously, their game plan was to make us defend for long periods of time, which they did," said Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "Defensively, for most of the game, we did an outstanding job. Their game plan of making us defend for long periods of time was excellent. I told our team at halftime that this was great. It's like a 40 minute drill.
"Our players don't like that, but it's good for us to play a team like Missouri State. They are disciplined and tough. We shot poorly from the foul line. If we would have done better there, we would have won more easily. I thought their toughness in the second half was exceptional. They're a good basketball team that is used to winning. They weren't going to go away, but we did a good job of moving the ball around and getting some points in the paint."
The first half was much like the second half as the Tigers broke open a 27-25 lead with two minutes left by scoring the final seven points to take a 34-25 lead at the break. Auburn bridged the two halves together with a 12-0 run to go up 39-25 less than two minutes in.
Trailing 45-33, Missouri State outscored Auburn 15-3 to close to within 50-48 at 10:49 as the Bears made seven of their first nine 3-pointers of the second half. That's when Auburn's defense took over as it forced three straight Missouri State turnovers that led to three consecutive Auburn layups by DeWayne Reed, Brendon Knox and a dunk by Tay Waller.
Barber finished the game shooting 10-of-14 from the floor and 2-of-3 from the foul line to go along with five rebounds, two blocks, an assist and steal.
"Missouri State is a really good team, and they made us defend the whole shot clock," said Barber. "I was winded after having to defend the whole shot clock. We played pretty well as a team, however, free throws killed us. We played pretty well offensively."
Waller added 14 points on 4-of-8 three-point shooting for the Tigers, Hargrove had 13 points, five assists and three rebounds, Knox 10 points and three rebounds off the bench and Quantez Robertson seven points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Chris Cooks led Missouri State with 18 points and Spencer Laurie added 14 points and six rebounds while Cardell McFarland had 14 points and three rebounds.
"I thought our guys did a good job of competing," said Missouri State head coach Cuonzo Martin. "They did a good job with adjusting and being physical and taking away our first and second options. We did a poor job of executing when we had the ball, and then they would take the ball and score on their transition plays."
Auburn shot 56 percent (28-of-50) from the field, 31 percent (5-of-16) from 3-point range and a poor 50 percent (14-of-28) from the foul line. Missouri State shot 44 percent (20-of-45) from the field, 48 percent (11-of-23) from 3-point range and 60 percent (9-of-15) from the foul line.
The Tigers outrebounded the Bears 33-26 and forced 16 turnovers while committing 13. Auburn also had 20 assists on its 28 made field goals and outscored Missouri State 42-14 in the paint.
Auburn returns to action as it plays host to Mercer Wednesday at 7 pm in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum in the first round of the Chicago Invitational.