AUBURN, Ala. (AP)—The missed free throws down the stretch bothered Jamie Dixon far more than the final score.
No. 2 Pittsburgh had most of a late 14-point lead wiped out and missed six straight free throws over the final 1:31, but still beat Auburn 74-66 in the Panthers’ first road game.
“Not a lot of teams have a good road win like that and are 8-0 at this point,” the Pitt coach said. “We won by eight on the road and if we would have made some more free throws that might have changed some things against a very good team.”
Aaron Gray scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds despite playing with a painful blister on his left foot and spending most of the second half in foul trouble.
Gray grabbed a rebound after one of the missed foul shots and laid it in, then blocked an Auburn shot.
“I was just trying to give my team a little bit of energy,” said Gray, who developed the blister late in Pitt’s last game against Robert Morris. “I kind of faded just a little bit in the second half and wasn’t effective.”
The Tigers (6-3) had cut it to three points twice before Gray’s putback made it 70-65.
Auburn couldn’t make another field goal after using a 10-0 run to cut it to 66-63 with 2:36 left.
“We played well enough to win the game,” said Tigers coach Jeff Lebo, whose team lost to the Panthers by 37 points a year ago. “There were just some plays here and there that didn’t work. Some of it was youth and some of it was the situation. They are tough.
“What makes them good is that they don’t beat themselves too often.”
Antonio Graves had 14 points and Ronald Ramon had 13 for the Panthers (8-0), who have won 19 consecutive nonconference games. Gray is 5 inches taller than any of Auburn’s players and was a big factor late despite playing the final minutes with four fouls.
Korvotney Barber led Auburn with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and Josh Dollard had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
The undersized Tigers kept it close by using their quickness to drive to the basket and grab loose balls, closing to within one point with two quick baskets to open the second half.
“Coach told us all week that (Gray) is a big body but he is slow,” said Dollard, who had a double-double by halftime. “We tried to use our quickness to get around him and outwork him.”
But Auburn made only three of 20 3-pointers and shot just 36 percent in the second half, when the Panthers finally started dominating the boards.
Pitt shot 61 percent in the first half but only led 44-39. The Panthers finished with a 46-34 rebounding advantage.
They rode an 18-5 run to a 14-point lead midway through the second half, with Gray on the bench in foul trouble for much of that stretch.
Auburn mounted its final comeback try with a full-court press and DeWayne Reed’s 3-pointer and two free throws.
Lavance Fields, who had nine points and eight rebounds for the Panthers, had an easy layup off a long pass by Levon Kendall to help put Auburn away with 36 seconds left.
“It was a great play. It’s something we practice every single day,” Fields said. “It wasn’t like it came out of the blue.”
He wasn’t surprised Auburn gave the Panthers a scare either.
“Every team is going to play us like that every time we go on the road,” Fields said.
The Panthers were the second-highest ranked nonconference team to play in Beard-Eaves Coliseum. South Carolina topped the polls for a 1969 visit as an Atlantic Coast Conference team, winning 86-64.