AUBURN, Ala. – Jared Harper raced back on defense to thwart a Georgia breakaway, stealing the ball and firing a perfect alley oop seconds later to Malik Dunbar.
So loud was Auburn Arena after Dunbar’s thunderous dunk, Georgia coach Tom Crean immediately called timeout to try to quiet the crowd.
It didn’t work. Chuma Okeke’s driving dunk, and Harper’s 3-pointer kept the decibel level peaking, helping No. 11 Auburn defeat Georgia 93-78 Saturday in the Tigers’ SEC home opener.
“That broke our back a little bit,” Crean said. “That got the crowd back into it.”
Had Georgia scored on the break, the Bulldogs would have pulled within single digits. Instead, Dunbar’s dunk put Auburn ahead 82-69 with 4:08 to play. Harper’s 3 with 2:40 remaining made it 87-69, Auburn’s biggest lead.
“We had just turned the ball over and I was just trying to hustle back and get a stop,” said Harper, who led five Tigers in double figures with a game-high 22 points, adding seven assists. “Samir [Doughty] was on his left side. He got the ball loose and I was able to go in and grab it, then just turning around on the fast-break, Malik was open so I just made the pass and he made a dunk. That was definitely a big play in the game.”
Georgia natives Bryce Brown and Anfernee McLemore each scored 15 points, while Samir Doughty and Malik Dunbar added 11.
The Tigers remained unbeaten (9-0) this season at Auburn Arena, beating the Bulldogs for the third straight time to tie the all-time series 94-94.
“We’re very pleased with the win,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “It is a great rival historically for Auburn. Georgia is a team that we need to beat for our fans, and also in recruiting. It’s important that we maintain a level of competitiveness against them, and our Georgia kids all played well.”
McLemore sparked Auburn off the bench, helping the Tigers take a 48-38 halftime lead.
With Okeke and Austin Wiley limited to a combined 16 minutes after each picked up two fouls, McLemore led Auburn with 11 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 14 first-half minutes.
“I felt like I had a lot of energy,” said McLemore, who led the Tigers with nine rebounds. “I felt bouncy today. When they went out, I knew it was up to me and Horace to hold down the paint.”
McLemore dunked a teammate’s miss to give Auburn its largest first-half lead, 45-35.
Horace Spencer grabbed five rebounds in the half, helping Auburn outrebound the Bulldogs 20-16. For the game, the Tigers outrebounded Georgia 39-33.
The game, broadcast on ESPN2, was the first of five Saturday SEC sellouts at Auburn Arena, with 9,121 attending.
“Great to have our students in, another sellout crowd,” Pearl said. “I think it made for pretty good television. We’ll take it, and we’ll try to get ready for the next one.”
Auburn plays at Texas A&M Wednesday at 6 p.m. CT on ESPNU.