Fast start propels Auburn in 79-56 rout of Arkansas


Bryce Brown (2) Auburn basketball vs Arkansas on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. Photo: Wade Rackley /Auburn Athletics

AUBURN, Ala. (Auburn Athletics) – Typically, Malik Dunbar gives Auburn a jolt when he comes in off the bench. On Wednesday night, that jolt came right from the opening tip.

Dunbar earned his first start of the season, and the senior knocked down two 3-pointers and slammed home and alley-oop dunk all in the first five minutes of the game as Auburn jumped out to a 22-1 lead and cruised to a 79-56 victory over Arkansas inside Auburn Arena.

“It was good,” Dunbar said. “I just try to worry about defense. I’m not trying to worry about the offense as much. I’m just trying to be in the right spots and let the offense come to me.”

For Auburn, this was the breakout game the Tigers had been waiting on. They were passing the ball. They were knocking down their 3s. They were playing defense. They were grabbing rebounds. It wasn’t flawless, but it shows what this group can be capable of.

The 23-point margin of victory is the second-largest ever against Arkansas, and it’s tied for the third-largest against an SEC opponent at home since 2010.

“That’s a really great win for our program,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “We have such great respect for Arkansas and the basketball program’s history in the SEC. We’ve kind of evened it up the last three years, which is hard to do against them. I’m very pleased.

“We got off to a very good start and made shots. It was a dominating effort against a good team in the SEC, so it should be a good thing to build on.”

Dunbar might have been the initial spark with eight early points, but teammates Bryce Brown, Samir Doughty, Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke all drained a 3-point shot before the Razorbacks made their first field goal. Auburn made 10 of its 19 3-point attempts in the first half and finished with 17 3s in the game, the second most this season.

“We just play our game plan,” McLemore said. “We shoot a lot, and hopefully we make a lot. I feel like anybody on the court can make a 3, one through five. I think that really gives everybody a lot of freedom on the court. If you’re open, you can take that shot.”

Brown, who was 5 of 8 from deep, led the Tigers with 18 points. It was his 22nd game in double figures this season, and the senior guard is now averaging 17.3 points per game in SEC play.

Okeke made it 10 of his last 11 games with double-digit points as he scored 11 points to go along with a team-high five assists, four rebounds and three blocks. McLemore finished with 13 points and led Auburn with six rebounds. And point guard Jared Harper also scored in double figures with 10 points.

As a team, Auburn got its groove back offensively shooting 48 percent (26-54) from the field. But that shouldn’t take away from the efforts on the glass or on the defensive end. The Tigers won the rebounding edge, 42-34, and also held Arkansas to just 33 percent from the field and 15 percent from beyond the arc.

The Razorbacks were led by Isaiah Joe, who finished with 14 points on 5 of 18 shooting. Star big man Daniel Gafford was held to just 10 points.

Following back-to-back wins, Auburn is now 18-8 on the season and 7-6 in the SEC. Next up is a trip to Lexington to face No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday. The game is scheduled to tip off at 12:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on CBS.

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