Auburn, Ala.--It took 10 extra minutes to make it happen, but it was worth the effort for the Auburn basketball Tigers, who pulled off the first major upset victory of the Bruce Pearl Era with an 89-88 victory over Xavier on Saturday evening.
Trailing by as many as 14 points in the second half, the Tigers outscored the Musketeers 48-35 in the second half as they hit 19-31 field goals (61.3 percent) to fuel the comeback.
Backup point guard Malcolm Canada hit a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left to put Auburn ahead for good as the Tigers play good defense in the closing second to hold on for the victory in from of 7,975 excited fans at Auburn Arena.
“Your try to simulate all of these type of situations because you never know,” Malcolm said of being called on to come through with a game on the line, something he said he has successfully done multiple times in high school and junior college.
“I wasn’t nervous,” said Canada, who scored 15 points and did an outstanding job defensively when having to guard a six-foot-10 player due to foul trouble for Cinmeon Bowers. Canada added three steals and two assists.
Malcolm Canada takes a jump shot.
Auburn improved to 5-5 for the season with the victory while Xavier, one of the favorites to win the Big East Conference, dropped to 8-3 after previously beating two other SEC teams.
“It feels amazing,” said senior guard K.T. Harrell, who led all scorers with 24 points. “We put a lot of work in and sometimes we don’t get the results and it kind of frustrates you because you know you are putting the work in. When you finally get that ‘W,’ especially against a real good team, it makes you feel really good.”
The Tigers had chances to win the game in regulation and the first overtime, but the Musketeers hit free throws in the clutch and made shots every time they needed to until the last possession. Remy Abell led Xavier with 18 points.
Auburn hit 49.3 percent of its field goals and was 5-22 on threes and 18-29 at the foul line. Xavier hit 42.4 percent of its field goals, 8-20 threes and 24-27 free throws. Auburn was out-rebounded 40-37 and each team had 16 turnovers.
“That was a great win for the program,” Pearl said. “We don’t get that unless the crowd was incredible. It’s the best crowd we have had. Some of the students came back and they were in it from the beginning. They recognized we were playing a terrific opponent.
“Our basketball team showed a lot of character, a lot of belief in themselves and I am so proud of them,” Pearl added. “That would have been a hard one not to get because we had it, we gave it away a little bit by not taking care of the ball in regulation, but we have got some guys who are battling.”
Tajh Shamsid-Deen scores on a layup. The sophomore guard hurt his shoulder, but returned to the game and finished with six points and two assists and did not have a turnover.
Pearl said he was particularly impressed with the play of Canada. “He is a senior, who really doesn’t have a game or a moment to hang his hat on, but he has got one now,” Pearl said. “He played power forward for the majority of that game because we were in such foul trouble on the front line...He was just a senior who wanted it more than anybody out there.”
Auburn hung with the Musketeers much of the first half, but with the game tied at 17-17 at the 7:27 mark the visitors went on a 7-0 run to take a solid lead into the break.
Halftime Numbers: Xavier led 38-25 with most of the margin built on three-point shooting. The Musketeers hit 5-13 in the half while Auburn made just 1-10. Xavier turned the ball over only four times to seven for Auburn, which was out-rebounded 20-15. Xavier was 7-7 at the foul line while Auburn made 4-7 free throws.
Auburn hit 10-25 field goals in the half while Xavier made 13-33. Mason led the Tigers in first half points with seven Harrell and Bowers each scored six. Trevon Bluiett scored nine for Xavier.
Auburn cut the lead to 64-63 on a layup by Harrell with 3:28 in regulation and took the lead with 2:27 at 66-64 on a three-point shot by the senior guard.
The Tigers led 71-68 with 37 seconds left when Bowers hit 1-2 free throws. Myles Davis nailed a three with 21 seconds left for Xavier to tie the game. Bowers scored inside with eight seconds left to put the Tigers up by two, but Remy Abell got to the foul line with three seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Canada put Auburn ahead 83-81 in the first overtime on a layup, but Matt Stainbrook hit two foul shots for the Musketeers with 13 seconds left. A missed shot by Bowers with a second left sent the game into double overtime.
Harrell started the next period by nailing a baseline jumper, but Xavier took the lead with 36 seconds left on a tip-in rebound.
After that Canada hit his two free throws, which was the winning margin.
Pearl said the game was a battle of wills for each team and noted that Harrell, who played 44 minutes, made a strong defensive stop in the closing seconds. “Harrell on that last stop goes against Remy Abell and cuts him off twice. Abell is a tremendously powerful driver and K.T. doesn’t allow him to get into the lane. That is heart. That is character. That is toughness. That is a winner.”
Freshman Help: Seven-foot-two center Trayvon Reed played 25 minutes and contributed four points, five rebounds and five blocked shots and hit two free throws in four chances in the second overtime. “He is a great kid,” Malcolm said. “He is going to be something special.”
Canada noted having such a tall player on the court makes a difference. "He made them take tough shots. They knew he was a presence out there. It was great to have him there."
Xavier's Take: Coach Chris Mack had praise for the Tigers. "I thought their kids competed. Obviously, the culture is change because of Coach Pearl. His teams are always going to to be know as very hard playing teams."
Stat of the Game: Auburn held Xavier to 42.4 percent shooting, right at 10 percentage points below that team’s season average.
Thank Yous: The players headed to the exits after the game to thank the crowd for their support. It is the second time they have done that this year.
Talent Scouts: With the talented Musketeers at Auburn Arena the game drew a contingent of a half dozen pro scouts.
Up Next: The Tigers will be at home for 7 p.m. tipoff vs. Texas Southern, a team that upset Michigan State on Saturday.