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WVU Holds Off No. 15 Auburn 80-77 in SEC/Big 12 Challenge



Photo: Kelsie LeRose / WVSN

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the 2022-23 edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, West Virginia held off No. 15 Auburn in the closing moments, winning 80-77.

Auburn (16-5, 6-2 SEC) had a chance to tie at the buzzer with the three-pointer failing to drop.

WVU G Erik Stevenson connected on another three-pointer with just under five minutes left in the first half. Stevenson hit three first-half three’s to go with his fantastic start. The Washington native finished with a career-high 31 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Stevenson also had six rebounds and three assists to go with his big day.

Free throws have been a problem for West Virginia (13-8, 2-6 Big 12) up until recently. The Mountaineers shot 84 percent from the free-throw line on Saturday. Kedrian Johnson missed a couple crucial free-throws but nailed one to make it a four-point game with 16 seconds.

WVU big man Jimmy Bell contributed to a lot of the free throws made. The senior finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.

Sophomore forward James Okonkwo converted an and-one play at the end of the first half to send WVU into the break with a 41-29 lead.

The Tigers came out of the half on a 12-5 run to cut their deficit back to single digits. Auburn shot 56 percent from the field in the second half.

Auburn forward Johni Broome has a history with West Virginia as he played the Mountaineers in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament with Morehead State. Broome, Auburn’s second-leading scorer recorded 15 points and seven rebounds against his matchup, Bell.

Auburn legend Charles Barkley was in attendance to watch his Tigers play West Virginia. Barkley was in town as a guest for Bob Huggins’ annual fish fry on Friday night.

Saturday marks the last edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge as the series will conclude once the Big 12 extends to 14 schools. The SEC is moving on to a series with the ACC starting in 2023-24. The Big 12 still has the challenge with the Big East to look forward to every December but may look to replace with another conference.

Big 12 leads the all-time series 4-3-2 since the challenge started in 2013-14. The SEC has won the last two series. West Virginia is 2-7 all-time in the series against the SEC schools.

West Virginia will have a couple days off before heading to Fort Worth, Texas for the second matchup with No. 11 TCU. WVU defeated the Horned Frogs in Morgantown on Jan. 18. WVU and TCU will tipoff at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.

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