AUBURN, Ala. - It was physical all night. A back-and-forth battle between two quality teams. For a brief moment with 5:23 remaining, Auburn fell behind. Nobody flinched.
The Tigers responded with a 10-0 run over the next three minutes and eventually pulled away for a 79-73 victory over North Carolina State on Thursday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Auburn Arena to avenge last year's loss to the Wolfpack in Raleigh.
"A really good win," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. "Great win for our league, our league needed it. We obviously needed it. We're trying to make history. We're just grinding. But the good news is we can get a lot better, we can execute a lot better."
With the win, No. 12 Auburn kept its perfect record intact and improved to 10-0 on the season.
The 10-0 run started when Samir Doughty made a tough basket inside to tie the game. Then following a North Carolina State turnover, Austin Wiley gave the Tigers the lead back with a thunderous dunk in transition. After four straight made free throws, J'Von McCormick brought the crowd to its feet once again with a layup plus the foul to make it 10 straight Auburn points.
"We just stick together and don't get riled up," Wiley said. "We talk about that at practice. We have to stick together and not let stuff like (losing the lead) affect us. We just kept playing."
Doughty, who sealed the victory with a 3-pointer in the final minute, finished with a game-high 24 points. The senior was 6 of 12 from the field and made 9 of his 12 free-throw attempts. It was the second-most points scored this season by Doughty, who currently leads the Tigers with 18 points per game through the team's first 10 games.
Wiley scored 10 points and was perfect on the night, making all four of his shots from the field and both of his free-throw attempts. The senior big man also added a team-high eight rebounds and made his presence felt on the defensive end with three blocks and three steals.
"Austin Wiley had a very strong game," Pearl said. "I should have played him more. He was dominant on both ends. This is the kind of game where a year ago they would have brought Austin out on ball screens, and it would have been a challenge. It wasn't. Austin was up attacking the ball screen. He was back changing at the rim. He was a factor in there."
McCormick made it three Auburn players in double figures as he added 14 points while freshman Isaac Okoro just missed the mark with nine.
It was another strong defensive effort from McCormick, Okoro and the rest of Auburn's backcourt as they held North Carolina State guards Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly to 19 points and forced eight turnovers between them. In last year's game, the duo combined to score 42 points.
As a team, the Tigers held the Wolfpack to 73 points - 10 points below their season average.
"That was the difference," Pearl said. "The difference was the 10-point difference. We played hard. Our length was a factor. We turned them over. We scored off their turnovers. Last year's team couldn't beat this team, and this year's team did."
In the first half, Auburn jumped out to an early 25-16 lead thanks to a 12-0 run that included seven straight points from Jamal Johnson. The sophomore guard drained a 3 and drew the foul to make it a 4-point play, and then knocked down another long ball on the very next possession. He finished with eight points off the bench.
It will be a short break for the Tigers who return to Auburn Arena on Saturday to face Lehigh at 5 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on SEC Network.