AUBURN — Somewhere in the night on Wednesday, after all the celebration at Auburn Arena had paraded its way up to Toomer’s Corner, and as others in orange and blue rejoiced a big rivalry win over Alabama, Danjel Purifoy was working out alone.
He was trying to sweat it all out. He had missed the last game with the flu and was too exhausted to play much in this one either. But he had just seen Auburn’s freshman sensation Isaac Okoro go down with injury, writhing in pain on the court in front of him.
He was needed — even more than before. All of Auburn’s roster is. The Tigers need all hands on deck for their trip to Missouri.
No. 11 Auburn (22-2 overall, 9-2 SEC) plays at Missouri (11-13, 3-8) at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2, with Okoro ‘questionable’ for the game. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said Okoro missed practice Thursday after pulling his hamstring in the final minutes of regulation Wednesday during Auburn’s overtime thriller with Alabama.
Purifoy, conversely, played only nine minutes against Alabama after missing the LSU game last Saturday. Pearl said Wednesday night amid all the fans’ celebration that Purifoy was off to hit a late-night workout to try to get more of his strength back. He practiced again Thursday.
And his return to form could be crucial for Auburn if Okoro ultimately can’t play on the road.
Okoro plays small forward and power forward for Auburn. Purifoy has started most games this season at power forward, and would be important in picking up the slack left there. Freshmen Devan Cambridge and Allen Flanigan would also figure to pick up more minutes at small forward if Okoro doesn’t play.
“We’ll have to see how it goes — just see how it goes,” Pearl said Friday as his team packed up for travel.
“But obviously, if we’re without him, we’ve all got to step up and be able to find a way.”
Auburn has doubled Missouri’s wins this season but being a favorite hasn’t seemed to mean much in the SEC this season when playing on the road. Just last week, before Auburn’s showdown with LSU, fans saw LSU lose on the road at Vanderbilt, when LSU was 8-0 in the SEC at the time and Vanderbilt was 0-8. Kentucky’s lost to South Carolina on the road this season.
And Auburn hasn’t won a road game in regulation since Jan. 4.
Auburn’s last two road wins have come in overtime, at Arkansas and at Ole Miss. Before that came Auburn’s nightmare road week that saw its then-undefeated season crashing down, with road losses at Alabama and at Florida. The team would have to go all the way back to its SEC opener at Mississippi State in early January to find a road win won in regulation.
Missouri, meanwhile, is 9-3 at home.
“They know they can beat people,” Pearl said simply, of Missouri.
Auburn is just trying to make sure it doesn’t happen tonight.