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No. 5 Auburn beats Vanderbilt 83-79 behind Okoro’s career high

AUBURN, Ala. – Highlighted by a thunderous driving dunk, Isaac Okoro scored a career-high 23 points to lead No. 5 Auburn to an 83-79 win Wednesday over Vanderbilt.

The Tigers (14-0, 2-0) have won 26 of their last 27 games, including 11 straight against SEC opponents.

With the score tied in the final minute, J’Von McCormick hit a pair of free throws with 45 seconds left to give Auburn an 81-79 lead.

Okoro then grabbed a defensive rebound, got fouled and made one of two free throws with 26 seconds left to put the Tigers up 82-79.

“I just knew I had to be aggressive, coming out in the game and getting to the free-throw line,” Okoro said. “Getting their bigs in foul trouble, so that’s just what I decided to do.”

After Vanderbilt called timeout, Danjel Purifoy stole the inbounds pass with 20 seconds left to secure the victory.

Displaying advanced skills for a player one year removed from high school, Okoro drove for four and-ones against the Commodores, shooting 6-of-9 from the floor and 10-of-14 from the free-throw line.

“We don’t have five seniors,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We have six. He plays like a senior, knows how to communicate, not afraid of the moment, makes big plays.”

“He’s not a freshman in our eyes,” Purifoy said. “He plays like a man, and that’s what we expect from him.”

Okoro bested his previous career high of 18 by dunking over Vandy’s Aaron Nesmith with 11:40 remaining and making the free-throw line, igniting the sold-out Auburn Arena crowd of 9,121.

“Every time he puts the ball on the floor and takes it to the basket, he scores or gets fouled,” Pearl said.

On his 21st birthday, Austin Wiley recorded his sixth double-double of the season, scoring 13 points with 12 rebounds. Wiley made 9 of 10 free throws.

Auburn outrebounded the Commodores 39-28, leading to a 23-0 advantage in second-chance points.

The Tigers led by 14 with eight minutes left, but the Commodores rallied down the stretch behind Saben Lee, who led all scorers with 27, and Nesmith, who scored 18.

“We can get better,” Pearl said. “We will. We’re a good team. Still not very good.”

Anfernee McLemore scored all 14 of his points in the first half to help the Tigers lead 42-38 at intermission.

Okoro scored 16 before intermission, including three old-fashioned 3-point plays.

“I’ve always been a physical player growing up,” Okoro said. “Going to the rim, drawing contact and getting and-ones is one of the key parts of my game.”

Purifoy scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half. 

“Coming out in the second half, I knew I had to be more aggressive for us to get this win,” Purifoy said.

On the first day of spring classes, 2,500 Auburn University students began lining up outside several hours before tip-off.

“I’m grateful,” Pearl said. “Appreciate every one of them. They’re going to see good basketball all year long.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The Tigers remain at Auburn Arena Saturday when they host Georgia at 5 p.m. CT. on ESPN and the Auburn Sports Network.

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