K.T. Sparks Tigers With Offense And Defense

K.T. Harrell, the SEC hoops player of the week, talks about his Auburn team as the Tigers look for their sixth win of the season.

Playing his 44th and final minute of Auburn’s upset basketball victory over Xavier on Saturday night, senior guard K.T. Harrell’s defensive stop allowed the Tigers to hold on for an 89-88 double overtime victory.

With the Tigers turning their focus to another 2014 NCAA Tournament team, Texas Southern, Harrell and the Tigers are preparing for a quick turnaround for Tuesday’s 7 p.m. tipoff at Auburn Arena.

After Malcolm Canada put the Tigers up by one point by making two free throws with 14 seconds left, Xavier’s Remy Abell, who had scored 18 points, tried to drive to the basket against Harrell. Twice the Auburn guard cut him off, forcing the Musketeer guard to launch an off-balance three-point shot that was wide right by a large margin.

“After the game Kareem (Canty) was messing with me saying ‘that is from guarding me’ and it really is because guarding Kareem is a tough job,” Harrell said of the transfer from Marshall who is redshirting. “He is going to be a really good player next year. If I can guard him, I can guard pretty much anybody.

“The guys we have on this team are really focusing on defense and I am really trying to become a better defender,” Harrell says. “That definitely helped me out a lot. I took it as a challenge and I definitely knew I could get the stop.”

Something that also helped Harrell was the offseason strength and conditioning program he went through after Bruce Pearl took over as head coach.

“That helps a lot--for sure,” Harrell points out. “Last year I was way too heavy and I wasn’t in nearly as good of shape as I am now.”

Despite being in good shape, Harrell admits he was tired after the two overtime grinder. “Yesterday (Sunday) we just got free throws and watched a lot of film so I have recovered a little bit. It was a long game--mentally draining for sure. I have done a lot of recovery stuff and I will do some today after practice so I will be ready tomorrow night.”

Harrell, who passed the 1,000 points mark for his college career in a Wednesday night victory over Winthrop, gave Auburn its first lead of the second half vs. Xavier by hitting a three-pointer with 2:24 as the Tigers rallied from a 14-point deficit. He finished with a game-high 24 points and led his team in rebounds with seven.

Now 5-5 this season the Tigers have a goal of getting to 8-5 to start the SEC season. To do that they have to win at home on Tuesday night vs. Texas Southern.

“They beat Michigan State at their place and Michigan State is a really good team, and they are a really good team,” Harrell said. “We are not looking past them at all. We are preparing for them as much as possible and we are going to be ready.”

At Monday’s practice Pearl noted that the fan support on Saturday night helped the Tigers pull off the upset. Harrell said it was definitely noticed by the players.

“We have been getting a lot of appreciation from the fans,” the senior said. “That always feels good. It is definitely a confidence booster. We played a really good team and came out with a ‘W,’ but we are not satisfied. We are going to continue to work hard to get better.

“I think the most important thing is that we stayed together,” he added. “We were down 13 at the half and I am pretty sure they just thought they could come in here and beat us down--especially at halftime they had a lot of momentum, but we stayed together.

“We never thought we couldn’t win the game and it was important for us to go through that and realize that we can play with the best of them if we play together.”

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