Smith, do-it-all Kessler lead No. 21 Auburn past UCF, 85-68

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Walker Kessler had 17 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and six blocks, freshman Jabari Smith scored 20 points, and No. 21 Auburn beat UCF 85-68 on Wednesday night.

The Tigers (6-1), who won two of three last week at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, held the Knights (4-2) without a field goal for nearly nine minutes to take control in the second half.

Smith had seven rebounds, four assists and three steals while making three 3-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws. K.D. Johnson added 11 points for Auburn.

Darius Perry led UCF with 18 points but also committed eight turnovers. Cheikh Mbacke Diong had 10 of his 11 points in the first half while C.J. Walker had 10 points and seven rebounds.

Leading scorer Darius Green Jr. was held to eight points, half his season average.

Kessler, a 7-foot-1 North Carolina transfer, did just about everything except make one of his three 3-point attempts. He had two steals.

UCF missed 11 consecutive shots during a 1-of-15 stretch that saw the game get away.

Auburn led 39-36 at the half and didn’t build its lead to double digits until midway through the second half, when Wendell Green Jr. buried a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc to beat the shot clock.

Johnson hit two free throws and then stole the ball and took it in for a reverse dunk to give Auburn a 64-49 lead with 8:41 left.

UCF didn’t manage to cut into it much from there.

THE TAKEAWAY

UCF played another major-conference opponent close most of the way after losing 65-62 to Oklahoma over the weekend. The Knights shot 21 of 59 (35.6%) and 4 of 24 from 3-point range (16.7%).

Auburn thrived in the second half after four games away from home. The Tigers had eight dunks and 11 layups while making 10 3-pointers.

MAMADOU RETURNS

First-year Knights assistant coach Mamadou N’Diaye played for Auburn from 1997-2000 and was one of the program’s better shot blockers. N’Diaye played for four NBA teams in five seasons after getting drafted 26th overall by the Denver Nuggets in 2000.

UP NEXT

UCF hosts Bethune-Cookman on Sunday.

Auburn hosts Yale on Saturday.

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