- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - The Auburn Tigers gave coach Bruce Pearl his 500th win, but it didn’t come easily.

T.J. Dunans scored 12 points, including a jump shot with 38 seconds left, and Auburn held off LSU 78-74 Wednesday night to make sure the celebration didn’t have to be postponed.

Auburn (12-6, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) lost most of a 15-point second-half lead before regrouping. Auburn, which had lost four of its last five games, had five players score in double digits.

The result was Pearl’s milestone victory, making him the third active SEC coach with 500 wins along with Kentucky’s John Calipari and Tennessee’s Rick Barnes.

“I’m really glad they didn’t have to hide this banner in the closet,” Pearl said. “I had no idea that they were going to do all this.”

His daughter came into town from Atlanta and friends from his first head coaching job at Division II Southern Indiana 22 seasons ago also made the trip.

Former Auburn and NBA star Charles Barkley presented Pearl with a “500” jersey during a postgame ceremony, and the players donned T-shirts proclaiming: “Congratulations coach Pearl on 500 wins.”

“It means a lot to be a part of that,” Spencer said. “Coach (Chuck) Person said 30 years from now looking back at that celebration, not many people can be involved in that.”

Aaron Epps helped LSU (9-8, 1-5) close to within two points several times down the stretch but the visiting Tigers couldn’t finish off the comeback.

Duop Reath grabbed an offensive rebound and dished it to Jalyn Patterson for a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left, cutting it to 73-71. Auburn hit two straight baskets - Dunans’ jumper and Horace Spencer’s breakaway dunk. Reath then drilled a 3 with 9 seconds left, but Ronnie Johnson sealed the win with a free throw.

“I thought they did a great job of getting the ball to the rim and making some tough plays and getting to the free throw line, an area I thought they’d been ineffective somewhat this year,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said.

Mustapha Heron also had 12 points for Auburn. Anfernee McLemore scored 11 and Spencer had 10 points and seven rebounds. Austin Wiley scored 10 points. McLemore nearly quadrupled his season scoring average and produced a career-high.

Epps had 11 of his 15 points in the second half and collected a career-high 13 rebounds. He had eight points in one 2-1/2-minute stretch to help cut into the big deficit over the final 12 minutes.

Reath and Antonio Blakeney each scored 13.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: Has lost six of its last seven games. Made just 6 of 26 3-point attempts, or 23.1 percent.

Auburn: No. 2 scorer Danjel Purifoy missed his third straight game with a left ankle injury. Hit 19 of 22 free throws after coming into the game hitting 67.7 percent from the line.

“That’s not something that we were expecting from them,” Jones said.

Pearl urged his players to shoot some extra free throws after the team made just 5 of 15 in a loss to Kentucky.

“After the shootaround (Friday) night, he was like, ‘Make sure you get in the gym and get a couple hundred free throws up,’” McLemore said. “I feel like we executed and came back ready.”

UP NEXT

LSU visits Mississippi State Saturday night for their third road game in four outings

Auburn hosts rival Alabama on Saturday.

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