MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Coach Bruce Pearl has worked wonders as Auburn’s basketball coach, leading the Tigers to their first Final Four last season.
Now, he’s trying to do the same for the entire state of Alabama. Tuesday night at Mobile’s Mitchell Center went a long way toward accomplishing that.
Freshman Isaac Okoro made a layup with 2.9 seconds left to lift the No. 22 Tigers to a 70-69 victory over South Alabama in front of 10,068 enthusiastic fans — the most ever to see a game in the arena located about 230 miles southwest of Auburn’s campus.
“There was some good college basketball played around the country tonight, but there wasn’t a better environment any better than what was in Mobile tonight,” Pearl said.
Samir Doughty twice rebounded missed 3-pointers for the Tigers (3-0), setting up the game-winning shot. Okoro hit the shot while falling down in the lane and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but it didn't matter.
Andre Fox hit back-to-back 3-pointers in between an Okoro basket to give South Alabama a 69-68 lead with 28 seconds left. That capped a 22-8 South Alabama run.
Okoro had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists for Auburn. Jamal Johnson scored 14 and made 4 of 5 3-pointers. Anfernee McLemore also had 14 points while Doughty had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Fox led the Jaguars (2-1) with 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds. Josh Ajayi scored 15.
“We want to win these kinds of game and we want to be expected to win them,” said second-year South Alabama coach Richie Riley. “We’re not there yet, but we’re chasing it. Our guys aren’t happy with playing them close.”
Auburn: The Tigers made 10 of 24 3-pointers, but they were just 12 of 22 from the free-throw line.
South Alabama: Trailed by 10 points with four minutes left. Fox scored 11 of the Jaguars' final 13 points. Lost by 40 to Auburn last season.
Thrae Mitchell is the preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year. But because of early foul trouble he played only two minutes in the first half. He finished with five points.
Okoro was a 5-star recruit last year. He showed it Tuesday night. “We had number 23,” Pearl said. “No. 23 is pretty good. He’s not afraid. He obviously made the big play at the end.”
Auburn hosts Cal State, Northridge on Friday night.
South Alabama visits Chattanooga on Friday night.