Veteran Guards Lead AU to Opening Night Win

Guards K.T. Harrell and Chris Denson combined for 41 points as Auburn won its regular season basketball opener on Friday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's season basketball opener provided several firsts for the Tigers, the most important being a 76-54 victory over Nicholls State to end a 10-game regular season losing streak carried over from last season.

The night also marked the debut of junior transfer K.T. Harrell, who led the Tigers with 21 points with veteran senior Chris Denson contributing 20.

"I liked the end result," said Auburn coach Tony Barbee. "Wins are hard to get at this level and I liked that we are starting 1-0. I thought we played well and did a lot of good things. I am happy to get the win."

The Tigers were out-rebounded 19-14 in the first half with the visitors grabbing nine offensive rebounds. Auburn had a 25-15 advantage in the second half to out-rebound Nicholls State 39-34.

"We held them to 33 percent shooting so our defense was solid both halves," Barbee pointed out. "We were able to get our transition game going in the second half after a disappointing first half allowing too many offensive rebounds.

"Overall, the defense was solid, but there's room for improvement," the coach said. "The press was solid at times, but we got a little fatigued and it wasn't as sharp and they got some easy baskets out of it."

Barbee noted that Denson and Harrell make it difficult for defenses with their abilities as shooting guards who can also take the ball to the hoop and score or go to the foul line.

Harrell notched 15 of his 21 points in the first half with Denson more balanced with nine points in the first half and 11 after the break. Denson connected on 11-of-14 free throws while Harrell was 5-of-7 from the charity stripe. Auburn was 28-of-41 as a team for 68.3 percent from the foul line.

"Our goal is to make more free throws than the other team shoots," Barbee said. The Tigers' 28 free throws made were six more than attempted by the Colonels.

"It's not where we should have been," Barbee said of the field goal percentage. "From what my expectations are, we should be a 75 to 80 percent free throw shooting team. That's the type team we are."

Barbee praised the play of Harrell, who was making his first start at Auburn after sitting out a year following his transfer from Virginia.

"He was aggressive," Barbee pointed out. "It was what I thought we would get from him and we got a complete game."

Denson, the leading returning scorer from last season's team, said, "KT and I are both aggressive. With the new rules that don't allow defenders to be as aggressive, it is hard to guard me and K.T."

Harrell was pleased with his first regular season game action as a Tiger after playing four exhibition games, all wins for his team.

"I don't go into a game with an amount of points in mind," Harrell said. "I'll get my shots in the flow of the game."

Auburn's starting lineup included three veterans and two newcomers. Seniors Allen Payne opened at forward, Asauhn Dixon-Tatum at center and Denson at guard. True freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen made his first collegiate start at point guard with Harrell at the other guard.

Allen Payne started at forward for the Tigers.

Harrell opened Auburn's scoring with a three-pointer, then followed with a two-point basket. He notched seven of the Tigers' first 10 points to key a 10-4 lead a little more than four minutes into the contest. Denson had the other three points on a layup and free throw set up on a steal and assist from Shamsid-Deen.

Nicholls State evened the score at 13-13 before a lay-up by Benas Griciunas and a basket by Harrell put the Tigers back on top 17-13. Four straight free throws by Denson extended Auburn's lead to 21-15 with 10:20 remaining in the half.

Auburn took a 26-19 lead on a three-pointer by Harrell after two offensive rebounds by Dixon-Tatum retained possession for the Tigers. The basket put Harrell in double figures at 12 points with eight minutes left in the half.

The Tigers and Colonels swapped baskets the rest of the way until the half as the Tigers managed a 37-29 advantage at intermission. Nicholls State never had the lead.

The Tigers were 15-of-19 for 78.9 percent from the free throw line in the first half. The Colonels were only 3-of-6 from the charity stripe and actually made one more field goal than the Tigers on 11-of-27 shooting to 10-of-24. The Tigers were only 2-of-8 on 3-point attempts while Nicholls State was 4-for-10.

Asauhn Dixon-Tatum gets a stuff vs. Nicholls State.

Auburn extended its lead to 46-29 by scoring the first nine points after intermission. Dixon-Tatum slammed two baskets home to highlight the surge. The drought ended for the Colonels when Jeremy Smith dropped in two free throws with 16:12 to play.

Denson's three-pointer at the 10:55 mark put Auburn on top 58-39 for the largest lead to that point. He added two free throws to put the lead at 64-39. With 7:23 to play the Tigers had stretched the lead to 27 points at 68-41 by outscoring the Colonels 31-12 in the half.

The Tigers ending the night by hitting 22-of-46 shots from the field for 47.8 percent to the 33.9 percent shooting for Nicholls State. Auburn had 14 assists to 11 for the Colonels and committed 13 turnovers while forcing 14. Nicholls State did not have a double-figures scorer.

Dixon-Tatum blocked four shots and had a game-high eight rebounds. Shamsid-Deen led the Tigers with four assists.

Auburn improved to 5-1 all-time against Nicholls State with five straight wins over the Colonels out of the Thibodaux, La., and the Southland Conference.

The Tigers will resume action next Friday when Northwestern State visits. The Tigers have five straight home games to open the season before their first road test Dec. 2 at Iowa State of the Big Ten.

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