Isaac Okoro brought the spark.
The rest of the Tigers took it the rest of the way.
Then Austin Wiley slammed down the win.
Auburn played more complete with a complete lineup, Okoro started and shined in his return to the court, and on the strength of Wiley’s double-double the No. 15 Tigers never trailed despite a challenge in a 67-58 win over Ole Miss on Tuesday night in Auburn Arena.
Wiley led Auburn in scoring with 15 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in a stellar showing. Okoro scored 10 points in his first action since pulling his hamstring four games prior, making an instant impact.
And Auburn moved to 24-4 on the season and 11-4 in the SEC.
A thunderous Wiley dunk and two of his free throws followed by a Devan Cambridge steal and slam put Auburn up 55-46 with six minutes left — and highlighted a 9-0 run for Auburn which separated the Tigers after Ole Miss had cut it to 49-46 with 7:12 to go.
Cambridge then drained a 3-pointer after an Ole Miss timeout to cap that run and put the Tigers up 12 in the late stages.
Cambridge, Allen Flanigan and Jaylin Williams all contributed playing alongside Okoro — all freshmen who had been asked to contribute more in Okoro’s absence and who on Tuesday meshed more in tandem with Okoro upon his return.
Okoro’s return to the floor help bolster Auburn’s defense right away. Auburn held Ole Miss to 24 points in the first half, leading 31-24 at the break.
After Auburn’s move ahead late, Ole Miss cut the Auburn lead back down to four points at 58-54 with 3:00 left, but another Wiley dunk inside made it 61-54 with a minute and a half left, and Auburn advanced.
“Austin was physically dominant in there and that meant a lot,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said after the win.
Wiley finished 5-of-7 from the free-throw line, and added two blocks to his totals in his performance — and in his second-to-last game in Auburn Arena.
Auburn scored 38 points in the paint compared to 18 for Ole Miss.
“That was a big focus,” Wiley said. “We worked on that in practice, just getting me the ball inside, because they don’t have a lot of five-men — or a lot of guys my size on their team — so every time I get it I try to go up strong and just help our team.”
Ole Miss mixed up man-to-man, zone and trap defenses throughout the night, and through 30 minutes had held Auburn to only 41 points as Auburn led 41-39 with 10 minutes left in the game. Last season, Ole Miss also held Auburn to its second-lowest scoring total of 2019 at 55 points in Auburn Arena.
But from that 10-minute mark on Tuesday, Auburn went on to score 26 points in the last fourth of the game, with Wiley scoring nine of those.
“I was just trying to secure the win, to be honest,” Wiley said of taking over down the stretch. “Yeah, I just tried to go out there and play my hardest. I knew Ole Miss was going to keep pushing to make a comeback, make a late-game push, so I just tried to play my best out there.”
Fellow senior Samir Doughty scored 14 points for Auburn.
Ole Miss fell to 13-15, 4-11.
“Changing of defenses at least slows Auburn down,” Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis said after the game, complimenting Pearl and his team. Davis has had the number of the Auburn offense in recent games, but Tuesday, Wiley and the group cracked the code. “It’s what it’s done the last couple of years — to at least kind of get them at a slower pace. They get going here and then this fanbase gets rolling — and so I thought the changing of defenses helped.
“It just kind of got them a little bit out of a rhythm, because they’re a great rhythm team.”
Auburn next travels to play at Kentucky this Saturday for a showdown in famous Rupp Arena.
Auburn will then host Texas A&M for its final home game this season on March 4 before closing the regular season at Tennessee on March 7.