Brown’s return sparks Tigers
AUBURN | Bryce Brown was healthy enough Wednesday night at Auburn Arena.
The Tigers’ junior guard returned from a shoulder injury to score 18 points and lead No. 10 Auburn to a 76-66 win over Kentucky. The Tigers improve to 23-3 overall and 11-2 in the SEC, retaining a two-game lead in the conference standings.
"I want to give Bryce a lot of credit because this morning he wasn't sure he could play," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "Bryce was having a hard time moving, especially shooting, but it was his decision.
"All week long he wasn't a distraction. It wasn't about him, it was about the team."
Kentucky led by four with 7:06 remaining but Auburn finished the game on a 15-4 run, holding UK without a field goal over the final 5:01. Brown scored eight points in the final 6:38 including two 3-pointers.
"Getting Bryce the ball wasn't as easy," Pearl said. "But we put him in some ball screens, he turned some corners and he made some shots. I thought the big factor was we got stops. The fact they didn't score the last five minutes was the difference in the game."
Auburn has now won two of the last three over the Wildcats after coming into the game losing 19 of the last 20 in the series.
Brown, who missed Saturday’s win at Georgia, made 4-of-7 3-pointers and had two steals in 29 minutes.
"It's a little sore right now," said Brown of his shoulder. "I got it iced right now. Just trying to push through it and get it right so I'll be ready for Saturday."
Anfernee McLemore had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the fifth double-double of his career. He added three steals and two blocks in 30 minutes. Desean Murray had nine points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
"I think the difference in the game came down to Anfernee McLemore and Desean Murray at 6-7 and 6-3 just controlled the paint for the last five or six minutes of the game," Pearl said. "Whether it was blocking shots or getting rebounds, and Kentucky had some balls that kind of went in and went out, it was something.
"Our conditioning, our toughness, our resilience, our grit -- that's why we won the game."
Jared Harper also had 18 points, and added seven assist and a steal in 36 minutes. He had just two turnovers. Mustapha Heron had 11 points and four rebounds.
Auburn started the game 1-of-16 from the floor including 0-of-9 3-pointers, but made 6 of its next 8 from beyond the arc to go into halftime up 39-33. Auburn missed its first four 3-point attempts of the second half, and finished the game just 8-of-27 from long range and 36.7 percent from the floor.
"We don't let that distract us. Our coach believes in us. Our team, we believe in each other," Brown said. "If one guy misses, we're picking him up. We're never beaten down if a guy misses a shot."
Kentucky held a 36-20 scoring edge in the paint and out-rebounded Auburn 36-34. The Tigers scored 13 points off 14 Wildcat turnovers.
Kentucky, which falls to 17-9 overall and 6-7 in the SEC, was led by Kevin Knox with 19 points. P.J. Washington added 13 points. The Wildcats have lost four-straight games for the first time since 2009.
With Florida's overtime loss to Georgia Wednesday night, the Gators fall to third in the SEC, three games behind the Tigers. Tennessee beat South Carolina Tuesday to remain in second, two games back, but Auburn holds the tiebreaker after a 94-84 win at UT Jan. 2.
Auburn returns to action Saturday afternoon at South Carolina. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network.