No. 22 Auburn ready for Missouri in SEC tournament
Auburn is on a roll entering the SEC men's basketball tournament.
The 22nd-ranked Tigers have won six of their last seven games, including an 84-80 upset win against then-No. 5 Tennessee in their last game.
At 22-9 they have had consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons.
But now Auburn thinks it's time to take another step as it comes off a first-round bye to face 12th-seeded Missouri in the second round of the tournament on Thursday afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.
"We've been one-and-done three straight years," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl told the school's official website. "It's not good. That's not the kind of history I want to make. So we've got to beat (Missouri) to break that. And we've got to pack enough clothes to stay there for the weekend and see what happens."
Missouri advanced by knocking off 13th-seeded Georgia 71-61 in the tournament's opening game Wednesday night.
Fifth-seeded Auburn made its late-season surge even though center Austin Wiley missed the last four games due to a right lower-leg injury.
Wiley, who's averaging 8.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, returned to practice Monday and might be available Thursday or later in the tournament if Auburn advances.
Regardless of what happens in the SEC tournament, Auburn is on its way to a second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time since that last set of back-to-back 20-win seasons.
"I think we're more focused now than ever before," junior center Anfernee McLemore told the school's website. "We've got a drive to be playing the best basketball that we can and be as good as we can in March. It's now or never. You either win or go home. Now is the time to really lock in for the seniors, the guys in our program and Coach Pearl and put together the pieces we need to make a run."
Senior guard Jordan Geist scored a career-high 30 points to lead Missouri (15-16) to its first-round victory and extend his career for at least one more game.
"I just tried to go out there and play my game," Geist said. "When it all comes down to it, if I give my all, I don't have anything to regret."
Missouri made 24 of 29 free throws, including 10 of 13 by Geist.
"He wasn't ready to go home yet," Missouri forward Jeremiah Tilmon.
Geist made 9 of 15 field goals, including 2 of 4 3-pointers.
"It's easy to see why Jordan Geist is our leader," forward Mitchell Smith said. "He comes out every night and does his best."
Xavier Pinson added 15 points as the only one of Geist's teammates to reach double figures.
"(Pinson) has composure to him," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Sometimes it looks like he's sleepwalking, but he has a demeanor to him where he's locked into the game, not fazed by the atmosphere, stage or situation."
Missouri might be getting locked in as it won for the third time in its last four games after losing four straight before that.
"Sometimes in losing, though it's painful, it forces you to grow," Martin said.
Missouri trailed by two points at halftime, but pulled even early in the second half and took the lead for good on Mitchell Smith's jumper with more than 16 minutes remaining. It didn't make a field goal in the final four minutes, but didn't need to as it made its final six free throws.
Auburn defeated Missouri 92-58, on Jan. 30 in Auburn.
--Field Level MediaHome