UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — T.J. Dunans celebrated his 24th birthday Wednesday by scoring a career-high 21 points to lead Auburn over Oklahoma in the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Birth of Basketball showcase.
Jared Harper also had 21 points for the Tigers, who built a 17-point second-half lead Wednesday night, then held off the Sooners 74-70.
Freshman Mustapha Heron, playing in his home state of Connecticut, added 15 points and 12 rebounds for Auburn, which is 9-2 for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
“It was probably the best birthday present I could get right here, just winning the game,” said Dunans, who had a game-winning 3-pointer to beat Mercer on Sunday.
Freshman Jordan Shepherd had 13 points to lead Oklahoma (6-5) and Rashard Odomes added 12 points.
The Sooners were without leading scorer Jordan Woodard, who missed a game for the first time in his career after aggravating a leg injury in practice on Tuesday.
Both teams came in averaging 81 points per game and allowing 72 points. But without their star senior, the Sooners had a hard time finding the basket, especially early.
Oklahoma made just eight of its 34 shots (23.5 percent) in the first half and finished shooting just 31.9 percent from the field.
“You would always rather have (Woodard) than not, but when that happens other people have to step up,” said coach Lon Kruger. “We dug a pretty good hole. I thought we shot a bit quickly in that first half. We didn’t shoot them to make ’em, we shot ’em to get ’em off.”.
Auburn pushed a 12-point halftime lead to 17 early in the second half. But Oklahoma held the Tigers without a point for more than six minutes and used a 13-0 run to get its deficit down to 45-41.
A 3-point play by Dunans pushed the lead back to 58-46, before Oklahoma began chipping away again. Three free throws by Shepherd with 4.4 second left cut the lead back to four, but Auburn held on.
Coach Bruce Pearl said the key to game was keeping the Sooners from driving into the lane.
“We hung in there,” he said. “We switched one through four. We put little Jared (a 5-foot-10 guard) on their power forward at times, because we had to stay between them and the basket.”.
Oklahoma: Woodward’s injury forced Kruger to use his fifth different starting lineup this year, moving Jordan Shepherd back to the point for the freshman’s second career start and returning Christian James to the starting lineup.
Auburn: Bruce Pearl needs just three more wins to reach 500 in his 22-year career. He is now 497-187. It was the start of a big homecoming week for Heron, who played his high school ball about 60 miles away in Waterbury. He had a large contingent of fans at the arena and more are expected Friday when the Tigers play in Hartford against UConn.
“We had the whole city out here, pretty much the whole state I think,” he said. “It just means a lot to me, people showing that support.”.
Harper had 16 of his points in the second half, hitting key free throws down the stretch as Oklahoma fouled to stay in the game. He finished 11 of 12 from the line and was 9 of 10 after intermission.
NEW TO THE TEAM.
Auburn’s 17-year-old freshman center, Austin Wiley, had six points, after scoring nine in his debut against Mercer on Sunday. He joined the team last week after being cleared by the NCAA.
“I told him, there is no need to have any nerves, because at the end of the day, you know how to play basketball,” said Heron.
Auburn: The Tigers, who are in the middle of a stretch that will see them play four games in nine days make the short trip to Hartford for a Friday afternoon game against the Huskies. They open the SEC season at home on Dec. 29 against Georgia.
Oklahoma: The Sooners head home for a holiday break before opening the conference season on Dec. 30 against No. 4 Baylor. Oklahoma has won its last four conference.
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