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Auburn starts fast, holds on for win over MTSU in Birmingham

Auburn ranks 36th in possessions per game (74.8) while Middle Tennessee is 320th (66.5) dating back to the 2016-17 season.

Auburn built a 25-point lead during the former, and held on for the latter as it came away with a 76-70 win against Middle Tennessee State in the BHM JAM, moving the Tigers to 9-1 for the first time in almost two decades.

Auburn exited Birmingham with an impressive nonconference win by controlling most of a 76-70 result over the two-time Conference USA Tournament champions Saturday evening.

As a team, the Tigers won the rebounding battle, 34-29, marking the 10th consecutive game they have outrebounded their opponents - a feat that was only accomplished 10 times last season.

But it wasn't without drama, which is something that has become the norm for this Auburn team.

"We played better than I thought we would early, coming out of finals and not having played in a week", head coach Bruce Pearl said. Heron racked up 10 points early to guide the team. They love to live in the middle of the floor, and we just didn't let them get there and made it really hard on them.

Defensively, Pearl was much more pleased with the effort as the Tigers held the Raiders to 42 percent shooting for the game, including a 38.1 percent clip in the first half.

That run began with the ejection of reserve Tigers forward Malik Dunbar, who committed a personal foul and a pair of technicals with 13:32 to play.

Middle Tennessee was guided by Giddy Potts who had 19 points and four steals.

"I thought we were active", Pearl said. "He had played really well in the game against UAB when Mustapha (Heron) didn't play, and Mustapha came back, and all of a sudden he goes back to the bench and didn't have the same role. Then he put himself, put us in a situation where he lost his temper".

Harper and Heron led Auburn with 16 points apiece. Harper made 7-of-8 free throws late to keep MTSU at bay despite back-to-back 3-pointer by Antwain Johnson in the closing seconds that got the Raiders to within five.

Even without Potts, though, the Blue Raiders continued to chip away at their deficit. Both teams combined for 37 free throw attempts. "You can't turn it over 21 times and win against a good team".

Harper was one of four Tigers to finish in double digits on Saturday.

Auburn got another solid performance off the bench in the form of 14 points from freshman Chuma Okeke. The 6-foot-7 forward was 4 of 13 with seven turnovers to produce just 12 points. Brandon Walters fueled Middle Tennessee with 20 points and five rebounds. Jared Harper also scored 16 and had seven assists for the TIgers. The sophomore guard shot 4 of 7 from the field, 7 of 9 from the free throw line and grabbed six rebounds. "I tried not to force too much".

"That was a big focal point for us going into this game was definitely trying to defend and have more energy", Heron said.



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