AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — KT Harrell scored 20 points and Cinmeon Bowers collected 18 points and 17 rebounds to lead Auburn to an 83-73, come-from-behind victory over Milwaukee Friday night in coach Bruce Pearl’s debut.
The Tigers overcame a 12-point deficit in the final 11 minutes to win their opener under the former Tennessee coach, returning from three years out of coaching since his firing after an NCAA investigation.
Harrell, Auburn’s top returning scorer, had 18 points in the second half. He hit a 3-pointer and scored on a basket and free throw to spark a 19-2 run after Milwaukee (0-1) jumped ahead 55-43.
Graduate transfers Antoine Mason and K.C. Ross-Miller had big Auburn debuts. Mason scored 19 points and Ross-Miller added 13.
Northern Illinois transfer Akeem Springs led Milwaukee with 21 points while Justin Jordan had 11 and J.R. Lyle 10.
Pearl, a former Milwaukee coach, generated enthusiasm for a program that has struggled for the past decade.
His debut drew an announced crowd of 8,114 for the late-evening tipoff. Pearl blew a kiss toward the stands and high-fived fans as he headed to the locker room celebrating his first win.
It didn’t come easily.
J.J. Panoske’s basket inside gave the Panthers a 55-43 lead with 11 minutes left. Then Auburn began a 19-2 run with nine points in a 74-second span that included a 3-pointer plus a three-point play for Harrell.
Harrell’s two free throws with 6:36 left gave Auburn the lead for the duration.
Lyle’s 3-pointer with 3:49 left cut the margin to 69-67, but he missed the subsequent free throw.
Mason hit a pair of free throws after that. Jordon Granger’s late 3-pointer helped put it away.
Milwaukee: Made 30 of 59 shots (50.9 percent) but just 6 of 14 free throws (42.9 percent). Springs missed all seven 3-point attempts. J.J. Panoske, Matt Tiby and Steve McWhorter fouled out.
Auburn: Hit half of its 14 3-pointers. Starting guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen left the game clutching his right shoulder five minutes into the second half and didn’t return. Center Matthew Atewe watched from the bench with crutches and a protective boot on his left foot. He’s out indefinitely after reinjuring a stress fracture.
Auburn plays at Colorado on Tuesday.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee hosts Minnesota-Crookston on Monday.