Cinmeon Bowers battled inside in his Auburn debut and led the Tigers to victory with 18 points and 17 rebounds, but he had plenty of help along the way.
Bowers, a six-foot-six power forward, came up big for the Tigers.
K.T. Harrell, who had just two points at halftime, finished with a team-high 20 points while Antoine Mason, another player in his Auburn debut, added 19 points. Mason was injured while being fouled in the second half, but limped through the rest of the game with an ankle sprain and made key free throws down the stretch.
K.C. Ross-Miller, another transfer in his first Auburn game, came off the bench to score 13 points.
“I thought the team showed a lot of character,” Pearl said. “It starts with upperclassmen. That is one of the advantages of having a guy like K.T., and even Antoine. They have been there and done that, and didn’t panic so character counts in those situations.”
Pearl said that Harrell carried the Tigers down the stretch because it was important to the senior that they didn’t lose, especially in front of the big home crowd.
Harrell said he wanted to win the game for his new head coach. “It was huge," the senior noted. "I congratulated him right after the game. He’s been away from the game for a long time. We really wanted to get that 'W' for him.”
Commenting on his strong second half after a slow start, Harrell said his mindset was "just to stay aggressive."
"I didn’t have a good start in the first half, but I’m a confident player and I know I can get it going," he added. "I just tried to stay aggressive and look for open shots.”
Bowers said that the ball is in his court to rebound with Matt Atewe injured and on crutches to start the season. “Matt is out so I’m the only big man, me and Jordon (Jordon Granger). I just feel like I have to get every rebound, I have to. No question.”
Jordon Granger made all three of his shots, including a pair of treys.
The Tigers out-rebounded the taller Panthers 35-32 and shot 46.2 percent on their way to the victory. Auburn hit 54.2 percent of its field goals in the second half to catch the Panthers, who shot well throughout the game, making 50.8 percent of their field goals.
Auburn was out-rebounded 21-16 in the half and had four turnovers, one less than the Panthers. Ross-Miller led the Tigers with nine points in the first half while Mason scored seven.
The Tigers pulled even at 57-57 on a jumper by Mason and took the lead at the 6:36 mark on two free throws by Harrell, who was shooting after a technical foul. Fourteen seconds later Mason made another mid-range jump shot and the Tigers led the rest of the way, but didn't pull away until very late.
The Panthers trailed by just two points after a pair of free throws by Akeem Springs with 2:42 left, but were outscored 12-4 the rest of the way. Springs led the Panthers with 21 points.
Pearl said that as well as Bowers played, the junior can do even better. “Obviously, he put up man numbers, and there were times in the game where he was a strong factor.
"He also made some plays that he knows he should not make. I like it when he takes it out and goes full court, but there were a couple of occasions where he did not make the right decisions. But, if I can get him to clean it up a little bit, I know the good will outweigh the bad when it comes to that.”
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers trailed 32-29 as the Panthers out-shot Auburn 45.2 percent to 39.3 percent from the field. The Panthers hit 4-9 threes and were 0-2 at the foul line. Auburn hit 3-9 threes and 4-7 free throws.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Tajh Shamsid-Deen dislocated his shoulder with the Tigers down 43-38 and did not return to the game. The sophomore played 15 minutes and scored two points.
"He did sublex the shoulder, which means it came out and then went back," Pearl said of the guard, who was in obvious pain on the court. "He has never done it before. We are just going to have to wait and see."
Worth Noting, Part 2:Pearl is 19-1 in season openers as a head coach.
Crowd Support: Despite the late tipoff a crowd of 8,114 gave the Tigers a strong homecourt advantage, something that Pearl and Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said was a big factor in the game. After the contest Pearl sent Auburn players and assistant coaches to the arena exits to thank fans for their support.
“It moves me and I know where our program is going," Pearl said of the crowd. "They are a huge part of it. We are going to be in a lot of these nail-biters. We are going to be in a lot of these battles. I am just glad the fans got rewarded for their support. They are going to leave here knowing that it was a struggle. We went to the exits tonight to thank the fans for coming. I do not think our kids want to let the fans down.”
K.C. Ross-Miller hit 3-5 field goals and 6-6 foul shots for the Tigers.
Freshmen Help: Pearl praised freshmen forward Jack Purchase for his defense on Milwaukee’s top player, Matt Tilby, who fouled out with eight points and four rebounds. The coach also had praise for freshman guard T.J. Lang, who hit a key three-pointer from the corner during Auburn’s rally to victory.
Key Statistic: Auburn's guards attacked the basket in the second half, enabling the Tigers to get the Panthers in foul trouble, fouling out three starters. Auburn hit 28-39 free throws after making just 4-7 in the first half. The visitors made 6-14.
Doubleheader, Part 1: The Auburn women’s team opened its season with a 71-54 victory vs. Troy. Junior Tra’Cee Tanner hit 6-7 field goals as she scored 16 points and added 10 rebounds to lead the Tigers, who outscored the visitors 38-14 in the paint and 29-19 in points off of turnovers.
Up Next: Pearl’s Tigers head west for a late night game in the Rocky Mountains where they will play Colorado. Tipoff on Monday is 11 p.m. MST (midnight CST) from Boulder.