Too Close For Comfort: AU Rallies to Nip TSU

After a ho-ho hum performance for much of the game on the eve of Christmas Eve, the Auburn Tigers rallied to edge Texas Southern for an non-conference hoops victory.

Senior guard Malcolm Canada blocks out and waits for a rebound vs. Texas Southern.

Auburn, Ala.--Texas Southern almost added another scalp after taking down Michigan State on Saturday, but Auburn escaped with a 61-60 basketball victory on Tuesday night despite shooting just 35.7 percent from the field.

The Tigers, who improved to 6-5 while winning a third consecutive game, trailed most of the contest and were down by as many as 11 points in the second half to TSU. However, a three-point shot by Antoine Mason followed by a fastbreak basket by the senior guard with 10:10 left cut the lead to 44-40 and sparked the Auburn comeback.

The Tigers finally caught the scrappy visitors by moving ahead 59-58 on a layup by K.T. Harrell with 1:25 to play. They took the lead for good with 14 seconds left when K.C. Ross-Miller hit two free throws.

Senior point guard K.C. Ross-Miller makes a key free throw for the Tigers in the closing seconds.

Auburn’s defense then stepped up and forced a jump ball in the front court, but the possession arrow was in favor of the visitors, who had four seconds left to make a game-winning shot.

Looking to set up a lob pass over the Auburn defense, instead the visitors lost the ball to junior forward Cinmeon Bowers, who was fouled after he made .

Bowers missed his first free throw and was told by Coach Bruce Pearl to intentionally miss the second one, but he threw the ball high and hard off the backboard and it didn’t hit the rim, giving the basketball back to TSU with no time taken off the clock. However, Auburn defended against a long pass to the frontcourt and a desperation shot from well behind the midcourt line wasn’t close as the Tigers escaped with the victory.

“We have a long way to go,” said a less-than-pleased Pearl. “We are not a good basketball team, but I am proud of the way they competed. I am looking forward to getting my hands on them when they get back from Christmas.”

Pearl had praise for the visitors. “Texas Southern is a good team. They have been here since Sunday and they had us well scouted,” the Auburn coach added.

TSU coach Mike Davis said the difference in winning and losing for his team can be found on the stat sheet. “We gave up two points in the first half off of turnovers and 15 points in the second half.” His team fell to 2-9 for the season.

Four Auburn players scored in double figures. Harrell finished with 14 points while Bowers and Mason added 13 apiece and Ross-Miller finished with 11 points, four assists and three steals.

Auburn hit just 20-56 field goals and made 6-21 threes along with 15-23 free throws. The Tigers were out-rebounded 37-34 and had 15 turnovers, three fewer than TSU. The visitors hit 23-55 shots (41.8) percent, 4-13 threes and 10-13 free throws.

Pearl noted that he was disappointed with the lack of consistency from Bowers, who made 4-12 field goals and 5-11 free throws, but finished with a game-high 15 rebounds. “Cinmeon was terribly inconsistent," Pearl said. "He missed a lot of shots around the rim.”

The Auburn coach added, “Early in the game we got him the ball at the rim a bunch, but he didn’t finish.”

Pearl, who had been critical of the point guard play earlier this season, had praise for Ross-Miller and Canada, although he said he wished Ross-Miller would have not waited until the Tigers were in trouble of losing before turning up his intensity level.

“I knew we needed a spark from somewhere so I just tried to be aggressive and help my teammates create some energy offensively and defensively," said Ross-Miller, a graduate student transfer from New Mexico State. "That was the main thing.”

Auburn’s other point guard, Tajh Shamsid-Deen, struggled. He fouled out with no points, one assist and one turnover and was in the game for just 15 minutes. Pearl said if the Tigers would have lost the game not having Shamsid-Deen’s defense on the court for a longer period of time would have been a primary reason for a setback.

Asked about the close call, Mason said, “It was one of those games, right before Christmas...but we fought through it.”

The senior guard added that he is still trying to get back to the way he was playing before he was injured in the opener. “Coming back from an ankle injury I am still not 100 percent,” he said. “I get frustrated with myself sometimes...sometimes I am my harshest critic.”

Commenting on Mason, Pearl said, "I think Antoine is looking to find his role. At Niagara every time they came down it was a play call for him. Here, that is not the case. He is trying to find his way in the break and the continuity of the offense.

"He is capable of more as a player. He has to pass better. I would like to see him improve on that. I don’t know how much he is enjoying playing. I have to find a way to get a little bit more joy in the game for him.”

Cinmeon Bowers goes high for a rebound vs. Texas Southern.

Halftime Numbers: Auburn trailed 28-27 at the break after hitting just 9-28 field goals, 3-11 threes and 6-10 free throws while TSU hit 9-24 field goals 2-5 threes and 8-10 foul shots.

The visitors built the lead to 40-29 at the 14:42 mark of the second half. A basket by Canada cut the margin back under 10 and Auburn steadily closed the gap until taking the lead late in the game.

Worth Noting: Auburn has never lost a basketball game to a team from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but came very close to seeing that happen on Tuesday night. The Tigers improved their all-time record to 23-0 vs. SWAC teams, including 3-0 vs. Texas Southern.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Mason topped the 2,000 points mark as a collegian. His total of 2,005 is the second-highest in the nation for current players behind BYU’s Tyler Haws.

Stat of the Game: Auburn outscored Texas Southern 17-9 in points off of turnovers.

Game Box Score

Up Next: The Tigers will be home vs. Middle Tennesse State on Monday night in their next to last game before starting SEC play.

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