By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn’s Walker Kessler blocked three shots before LSU made a single one.
It was that kind of night for both Auburn’s 7-foot-1 center and LSU’s offense.
Kessler had 16 points, a career-high 11 blocked shots and 10 rebounds to lead No. 11 Auburn to a 70-55 victory over previously unbeaten No. 16 LSU on Wednesday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
“I think that we have, if not the best defense in the country, one of the most elite ones,” Kessler said. “I think we showed that tonight. We played aggressive, blocked shots, went after loose balls.”
Kessler got the second triple double in Auburn’s program history, but it didn’t become official until well after the game ended.
Auburn’s official scorer changed the stats to credit Kessler with a rebound that had initially gone down as a team board with 9:55 left in the first half. It became official more than 90 minutes after the game ended.
Kenny Gabriel had Auburn’s only other triple double on Jan. 2, 2012 against Bethune-Cookman. He had 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks.
Freshman Jabari Smith also scored 16 points for Auburn (12-1), which has won nine straight and didn’t give up a field goal in the opening 10 minutes.
LSU (12-1), which came as one of major college basketball’s five unbeaten teams, scored just one point in the first 10:45 but still managed to pull to within six a couple of times in the second half.
It was the lone regular-season matchup between two of the SEC’s top contenders.
“We don’t want anybody to do our work for us,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “So it was an opportunity not only for us to get one (win) but to give them one (loss).”
Kessler made 6 of 8 shots, including his fourth 3-pointer of the season. Wendell Green Jr. had 15 points and preseason All-SEC guard Allen Flanigan scored 10 in his first start.
Flanigan returned against Murray State and scored three points after missing the first 11 games recovering from Achilles surgery.
“We’ve been missing Allen,” Kessler said. “It’s so good to see him back out on the court. He’s a big part of our team.”
Xavier Pinson had 13 points when he fouled out with 5:32 left for LSU. Leading scorer Tari Eason, who missed the Lipscomb game with back spasms, got foul No. 5 a couple of minutes later and scored 11. Darius Days also scored 11.
“I thought we played with tremendous effort,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “We played our hearts out. We just didn’t play with the discipline and the smarts that we needed.
“The start was obviously not great again, but we cut it to six in both halves.”
Auburn turned the tables on one of the nation’s stingiest defenses.
LSU missed 16 straight shots to open the game, 11 of them from 3-point range, and had three of them blocked by Kessler. LSU’s Eric Gaines did snap a personal string of 21 straight missed 3-point attempts late in the game.
“It really showed the young guys what the SEC’s about,” Days said.
The host Tigers were playing without guard Devan Cambridge, who announced Tuesday that he tested positive for COVID-19. Cambridge was averaging 7.8 points and 3.3 rebounds a game.
LSU guard Brandon Murray didn’t play after pulling a muscle while stretching in practice this week, Wade said.
LSU actually scored first with a free throw by Gaines before giving up an 18-0 run. The nation’s No. 2 scoring defense helped keep it from getting quite so out of hand. Shot just 18 of 63 (28.6%) and had four assists and 17 turnovers.
Auburn allowed 21 first-half points, the fifth-fewest given the team has given up before the half at Auburn Arena.
“Our defense was outstanding,” Pearl said. “It starts and ends with Walker Kessler.”
Smith’s father, Jabari Smith Sr., played at LSU for two seasons, averaging 17.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in his career. Drafted 45th overall by the Sacramento Kings in 2000, the elder Smith also played for the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.
LSU hosts No. 18 Kentucky on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
Auburn visits South Carolina on Tuesday, Jan. 4.