AUBURN, Ala. (AP)Jabari Smith scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds and No. 22 Auburn overcame a halftime deficit to defeat Louisiana-Monroe 93-65 Friday night.
Smith hit 7 of his 12 shots from the field, including three 3-pointers. The highly touted freshman led Bruce Pearl’s Tigers (2-0) in both scoring and rebounding to notch a double-double in his second collegiate game.
”You can flat-out see what people are talking about when he offensively took over,” Pearl said. ”He is special. He is going to keep getting better and better.”
K.D. Johnson scored 18 points and Chris Moore added 16 for Auburn, both coming off the bench to spark the second-half turnaround for the Tigers (2-0). Fellow sophomore and starting point guard Wendell Green Jr. added 15 points and seven rebounds.
”K.D. and Chris coming off the bench made a huge difference,” Pearl said. ”… It’s unbelievable when you can bring that firepower off the bench.”
Sophomore guard Trey Boston led the Warhawks with 16 points.
Louisiana-Monroe (0-2) led by as many as eight points in the first half and held a 4-point lead early in the second half before Auburn went on what would be a decisive 22-8 run.
”To lead the 22nd-ranked team in the country at the half of their home floor … really, a tremendous effort,” Louisiana-Monroe coach Keith Richard said. ”That right there gives me hope for this team. That’s the team I always envisioned we could be.”
TURNING IT AROUND
Despite its size advantage, Auburn was outrebounded 19-15 in the first half by Louisiana-Monroe and scored just 10 points in the paint to the visitors’ 18. Then the Tigers, as Richard said, ”flexed their muscles” and outscored the Warhawks by 30 points after halftime.
”People are going to look at that score and think we blew them out,” Pearl said. ”We didn’t. It was a competitive game. Louisiana-Monroe outplayed us in the first half.”
Moore scored 16 points off the bench for Auburn, which was a career high for the sophomore. All but two of his points came after halftime. Moore also brought down four rebounds in the second half and went 4 for 4 from the free-throw line.
”I had a word for myself at the beginning of the season and it was `consistency,”’ Moore said. ”It wasn’t being consistent in scoring points or just being out there making plays. My consistency was being an energy guy, being a physicality guy, coming off the bench and giving us the spark that we needed on offense and defense.”
THE STREAK STAYS ALIVE
The comeback victory gave Auburn its 35th consecutive nonconference home win. The Tigers are now 46-3 in Auburn Arena against opponents outside of the SEC under Pearl.
Louisiana-Monroe: After losing their opener vs. LS by 62 points, the Warhawks responded in a big way against another SEC opponent Friday night. Louisiana-Monroe struggled with turnovers at LSU but only had four in the first half against Auburn.
Auburn: With four newcomers in the starting lineup and another logging heavy minutes as the sixth man, the Tigers are searching for a consistent offense. Their second-half surge showed what they can look like when they’re clicking, but coach Bruce Pearl’s team is going to be a work in progress.
Louisiana-Monroe: Faces Champion Christian in its home opener Tuesday.
Auburn: Visits USF on Friday.
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