Auburn, Ala.--Looking to build momentum for the conference schedule that begins January 6th with a road game in Nashville vs. Vanderbilt, the Auburn basketball Tigers took a big step in that direction with an exciting, double-overtime victory over the Xavier Musketeers on Saturday night.
Auburn rallied from a 14-point second half deficit and had chances to win the final seconds of regulation as well as the first overtime, but hung tough and found a way to pull off the upset in the second overtime.
“It just says that this group of guys want to dig in,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl after his team’s 89-88 victory over the Musketeers, one of the favorites to win the Big East conference.
“They are building that foundation for the future, but this group wants to dig in and see if it can be nationally relevant this year,” Pearl said. “Wins like that will obviously help, but we have to build on this.
“We have a lot of work to do and a long way to go, but this will certainly make us feel good about ourselves,” Auburn’s first-year head coach added. “As hard as they train, I think they deserve that.”
With the victory the Tigers evened their record at 5-5 and kept alive their goal of making it to the start of the SEC season with an 8-5 mark. Auburn will take on Texas Southern at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and follow that with two more home games as Middle Tennessee visits Auburn Arena on Dec. 29th and North Alabama visits on January 3rd.
Auburn guard Antoine Mason shoots a runner vs. Xavier. The senior scored 12 points for the Tigers, who were led by 24 from K.T. Harrell, 15 from Cinmeon Bowers and 15 from Malcolm Canada.
Pearl has been a strong supporter of SEC basketball since his days as head coach of the Tennessee Vols and that has not changed. He noted the victory vs. Xavier will help the league’s image in addition to its power ranking.
“I think it is a big win for the SEC,” he said of his team’s victory vs. the Musketeers. “That team should have been ranked. That team will compete with Villanova, Butler and Georgetown for the Big East championship. They are too good not to.”
One of Auburn’s main goals this season is to make it to a postseason tournament, something the Tigers have not done since Jeff Lebo’s 2008-09 squad finished 24-12 while advancing to the quarter-finals of the NIT.
“This is the kind of win that keeps us at .500,” Pearl said. “It keeps us where our goals to be a postseason team are still alive. If we lost a game, the goal still would have been alive, but the math would have gotten harder. This is one we needed.”
Seven-foot-two Trayvon Reed, who joined the team last week, lines up for a foul shot vs. Xavier. He scored four points while adding five rebounds vs. the Musketeers.
Pearl noted that a variety of players contributed to the victory, including freshman center Trayvon Reed who blocked five shots and hit two key free throws in overtime. “It is a great confidence builder for him,” the coach said. “K.C. Ross- Miller made some real plays at the end of regulation. This is one that our fans and our program will remember and celebrate for a while.
“Our kids went to the exits again to thank the fans for coming, but we have to be careful,” Pearl pointed out. “We can’t celebrate too much. We have to keep it in perspective. We have to keep getting better. We have 11 guys on scholarship now and this should give them some confidence that they can beat a really good team.”
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