Sharife Cooper has only played 6 games in an Auburn Tigers uniform, but his performance on Tuesday night against the Missouri Tigers was another exclamation on what has been a spectacular season so far for the talented freshman.
When the final buzzer hit, Cooper finished with 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists. When asked about Cooper postgame, Cuonzo Martin said, “You gotta give credit to Cooper. He’s a talented young player. He puts you in tough positions.” The only time he seemed to be contained tonight were the minutes he spent on the bench.
To open the game, Auburn got off to a fast start, and at the under 12 timeout, they led Mizzou 19-9 and were limiting Mizzou defensively allowing Cooper and co. to get in transition.
As Cooper continued to dominate the visiting Tigers, Auburn was able to stretch its lead all the way out to 14, but Mizzou got a glimmer of hope when Sharife was forced to go to the bench with 5 minutes to play in the half.
With Auburn’s star on the bench seated next to Bruce Pearl, Mizzou capitalized. Led by Dru Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon, the Tigers pounded the ball on the inside and cut the once double-digit Auburn lead down to just four at the half.
After the intermission, the Tigers briefly continued its momentum while Cooper remained on the sidelines with his 3 fouls and cramps. Thanks to a 7-0 run to open the half, the Tigers were able to secure their first lead, and by the time Cooper returned, the lead had stretched to 7.
However, his return once again flipped the game on its head as the 5-Star athlete scored 21 points in the second half. Most of his damage was done at the 3-point line where he went 13-14. Despite some questionable calls by the referees that went Sharife’s way, Dru Smith said there was no excuse for the number of times the Tigers let him get to the line. “We want to be intense on the defensive end,” he said. “But we have to adjust to how the games being called.”
While one group of Tigers (Auburn) excelled at the charity stripe, the other struggled. As a team, the Tigers (ours) were just 18-27 from the FT line, with a majority of those misses from Jeremiah Tilmon. Despite having 21 points on the night, Tilmon was just 3-11 from the line, and in a game that the Tigers lost 6, those missed chances seemed to hurt even more in the post-game.
Despite Tilmon’s woes shooting the ball, he and Dru Smith did everything they could to keep the Tigers within striking distance as both had 21 points. However, strong FT shooting and 14 blocks from Auburn were just too much to overcome for Mizzou. After the game, Cuonzo Martin simply said, “Most of [our layups] we didn’t go up strong enough.”
When it was all said and done, Mizzou fell 88-82 and 10-3 (4-3 SEC) on the season as they now prepare for the Big12-SEC Challenge on Saturday against TCU.