Walker Kessler feasted on dunks throughout the night and helped No. 13 Auburn dig itself out of a major second-half hole on Saturday to defeat host Saint Louis, 74-70.
Kessler led the Tigers (10-1) with 19 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots, going 8-for-12 with six dunks. Wendell Green Jr. finished with 15 points and eight assists and Jabari Smith scored 13 points.
Saint Louis (8-4) led by as many as 13 points at the tail end of a 23-5 stretch with 9:13 to go. Auburn crept back, utilizing multiple alley-oop dunks to the 7-foot-1 Kessler, until a Lior Berman corner 3 put Auburn back ahead 67-66 with 2:14 left.
Smith sank his third 3 of the game on the next possession, but the Billikens’ Jordan Nesbitt was left all alone for his own 3 to tie it 70-all with 37 seconds left.
Auburn’s K.D. Johnson (11 points) drove the lane and made a bucket off the glass with nine seconds remaining. That proved to be the game-winner once Kessler fouled Francis Okoro, who missed his first free throw and induced a Saint Louis lane violation trying to miss the second on purpose.
Auburn avoided what would have been its first loss in regulation this season.
Five players scored in double figures for the Billikens, led by Terrence Hargrove Jr.’s 17 points. Yuri Collins recorded 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Auburn did not lead until almost 11 minutes into the game, when Smith’s jumper made it 16-15. The Tigers missed 12 of their first 15 attempts from the field.
Saint Louis kept it close until the end of the half. Auburn made the final three shots of the half, including a 3-pointer by Johnson, for a 7-0 run to jump ahead 35-27 at halftime.
The Billikens went scoreless for the last 4:04 of the first half, but they made up for it by coming out of intermission with a 9-0 run. That stretch ended with a short Collins jumper to put Saint Louis up 36-35.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl returned to the bench Saturday after serving a two-game suspension resulting from violations by his former assistant coaches. He picked up a technical foul in the second half during the Billikens’ 23-5 run that included eight free throws.
–Field Level Media
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