No. 22 Auburn surges into Ole Miss game

The Associated Press

After a 76-70 victory over Middle Tennessee on Dec. 16 extended Auburn's winning streak to seven games, the Tigers started getting votes in the Top 25 poll.

On Monday, after extending their winning streak to 12 games with two wins over ranked opponents -- then-No. 23 Tennessee and No. 22 Arkansas -- the Tigers entered the poll for the first time in 15 years.

Auburn (14-1, 2-0 SEC) will test out its No. 22 ranking Tuesday when Ole Miss (9-6, 2-1) visits Auburn Arena.

"We're playing good basketball right now," Tigers coach Bruce Pearl told the Auburn Plainsman following Auburn's 88-77 victory over Arkansas on Saturday. "We have nine guys that are playing really well together, so we're in a good place. We have to take advantage of it when we get these opportunities. Our team is pleased, but our focus is to continue to get better."

The win over the Razorbacks was the first time Auburn:

--had beaten ranked opponents in consecutive games 2007.

--had defeated ranked teams in back-to-back games since 1986.

--had defeated ranked SEC teams in back-to-back games since 1958.

Auburn's last loss came Nov. 17 against Temple.

"It puts a bigger target on our head," Pearl said. "A win over Auburn is worth way more to the opponent. But our goals are bigger than being nationally ranked sometime in January. This team's goals are bigger. We're going to focus on that. I don't think there is any chance that we become too confident. No chance in that."

Pearl has vowed, since he arrived in 2014, to raise the program's national visibility and infuse in it some excitement.

In Saturday's win, there was plenty of the latter.

"The crowd was awesome," Pearl said after the win over Arkansas. "It makes a big difference. It makes a big difference for television. It makes a big difference with the whole environment. Again, it's a very good basketball game and a really good environment. Two really good teams. And Auburn is one of those really good teams in the SEC."

Mustapha Heron leads the Tigers in scoring at 15.9 points per game after recording 17 versus Arkansas.

The Rebels, who have won four of their past five games, are coming off a 64-58, come-from-behind win over Mississippi State on Saturday.

Ole Miss used a 16-3 run to turn a nine-point deficit into a 60-56 lead with 40 seconds left.

"I thought it was a great sign of maturity out of our group to be able to continue to battle and get stops when we're just having empty possession after empty possession because of our inability to make a shot," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy told the Clarion (Miss.) Ledger after his team handed the Bulldogs only their second loss of the season.

Breein Tyree scored 10 of his 16 points in the final 6:26 and made two critical shots in the final 53 seconds to preserve the Rebels' win over their in-state rival.

"It's huge for him because also, it's his personality. He has a leadership quality to him. He's kinda chatty, he talks so it does wonders," Kennedy said of Tyree, who has 33 points in his past two games. "But when you're not playing well, it's hard for you to be boisterous. ... Players just kind of get silent when they're not playing well, so it's important for him to put together back-to-back good games because I need his voice on that court."

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