Defense, Mason Lead Tigers to Another Win

The Auburn basketball Tigers extended their winning streak to four games with a strong defensive performance vs. Middle Tennessee State.

Auburn, Ala.--Antoine Mason continued his comeback from an ankle injury with a highly efficient offensive performance on a night his team played strong defense as Auburn won its fourth consecutive basketball game with a 64-48 victory over Middle Tennessee State on Monday night.

Mason, a graduate student transfer from Niagara, led all scorers with 19 points. He hit 5-7 field goals, 3-4 treys and 6-6 free throws for the Tigers, who improved their record to 7-5.

Injured in the second half of the opening game vs. Milwaukee, Mason’s performance against the Blue Raiders was his best of the season, which has included action in half of Auburn's 12 games.

“I am getting healthier, my ankle is getting stronger,” Mason said, noting that at practice earlier in the day the “ankle felt good,” something he hoped would stay that way during the game.

Asked about scoring 19 points on just seven field goal attempts, he said, “I am just happy I was able to play with confidence and joy as Coach said. I felt my joy.”

Coach Bruce Pearl said there was a lot to like for his Tigers. “We played well, we guarded very well. Coach (Chuck) Person put together a very good game plan defensively and our kids executed.

“It was great to see Antoine get going and be really comfortable,” Pearl said, noting that the guard looked confident shooting threes (3-4) and attacking the basket.

The Auburn coach added that he really like the team’s defensive effort and “the fact we turned them over 24 times.”

The Tigers got 12 points from senior guard K.T. Harrell, who led the team in rebounds with seven, plus 11 points from Cinmeon Bowers, who added six rebounds.

Auburn out-shot MTSU 51.2 percent to 40.5 percent from the field. The Tigers were 6-11 on three-pointers while the Blue Raiders hit 6-17. Auburn was 14-24 at the foul line while MTSU hit 8-10 chances.

JaQuel Richmond led MTSU in scoring with 11 points, coming off the bench to hit three treys for his team, which fell to 7-6 for the season.

Auburn never trailed in the game, building a 31-20 halftime advantage before stretching the lead to as many as 22 points with 4:51 to play in the second half.

Playing before a crowd of 6,752 at Auburn Arena, the Tigers finished the game with a dozen steals, including five by point guard K.C. Ross-Miller, who scored seven points. Pearl said he likes the progress he is seeing from the transfer.

K.C. Ross-Miller drives vs. the Blue Raiders.

"Coach really challenged me early in the season to play better defense and it is just something I have been trying to work on, and something we have been trying to work on as a team," said Ross-Miller, who played for New Mexico State last season. "I think I am playing with a lot more energy and confidence, and I think that is helping as well."

MTSU head coach Kermit Davis pointed out that he was impressed with the crowd and the energy at Auburn Arena. “It is a December game and Auburn football is in a bowl game, and to have this kind of atmosphere, that is a credit to them," Davis said. "I have seen too many of these December games around the SEC, and I thought their team competed hard...Give Auburn credit, I thought they played with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm.”

Pearl said he liked the crowd, too, and added, “We beat a good team, and we beat them convincingly, so it was one of our better efforts.”

Halftime Numbers: The Tigers led 31-20 by out-shooting the Blue Raiders 47.6 percent to 34.8 percent. Auburn hit 10-21 field goals, MTSU hit 8-23 with 2-8 from three-point range and 2-2 on free throws. Auburn hit 3-6 threes and 8-12 free throws. The Tigers led 14-13 in rebounds and had nine turnovers, five fewer than MTSU. Mason led the Tigers in scoring at the break with 12 points and Ross-Miller added five points.

Injury Report: Tajh Shamsid-Deen played just 12 minutes due to what Pearl said is a painful shoulder and noted the plan is to rest him this week. “Most kids would not have played with the pain,” Pearl said. Jordon Granger, who also played just 12 minutes, tweaked his hamstring during the game.

Stat of the Game: Auburn hit 22-43 field goals, including 12-22 (54.5 percent) in the second half.

Quoting Antoine Mason On Auburn's Defense: “Coach challenged us, especially me, he always calls out me on defensive in practice. I am a competitor and I do not like being called out. I wanted to prove him wrong. I have an ego, a chip on my shoulder. We set the tone and I felt like everybody wanted to lock their man up and help each other. If we do that we will be a dangerous team.”

Worth Noting: The Tigers were outscored in bench points 31-8, but led the battle of points in the paint (38-20), points off of turnovers (19-13) and second chance points (13-4)

Up Next: The Tigers will close their pre-conference schedule with a home game at noon on Saturday vs. North Alabama.

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