Sluggish Tigers Rally to Defeat Lions

K.T. Harrell scored 25 points as Auburn won its eighth basketball game of the season, but the Tigers were not satisfied with their 82-61 victory over North Alabama.

K.T. Harrell drives inside for a basket vs. North Alabama.

Auburn, Ala.--Overcoming a sluggish start, Auburn won a fifth consecutive basketball game as the Tigers took an 82-61 victory over North Alabama on Saturday. Coach Bruce Pearl was less than happy with his team’s performance at Auburn Arena.

“We are not good enough for me to have to coach effort,” Pearl said. “I had to and that is something we have to address. It is a long season and what we do is not very good unless we do it with great effort, great intensity, and we didn’t.

“You have to honor the game and play the game with great consistency,” Auburn’s first-year coach added.

K.T. Harrell led the Tigers with 25 points while Cinmeon Bowers contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds. Auburn’s only other scorer to reach double figures, guard Antoine Mason, finished with 18 points.

“He wasn’t pleased,” Harrell said when asked what Pearl told the Tigers. “We have got to get better. That is the bottom line. Nobody is really satisfied because of the slow start we had. We didn’t come out strong with a lot of energy so he was disappointed. We are all disappointed.”

Another senior guard, Malcolm Canada, agreed with Harrell. “As a coach you shouldn’t have to coach effort,” he said. “As players and competitors we should have come out there already ready to play--hyped up no matter who the opponent is.

“He should be disappointed,” Canada said. “We should be disappointed in ourselves the way we came out. Tomorrow we have got to go in to practice and get ready for conference play.”

Auburn outscored the Division II Lions 50-31 in the second half thanks to improved shooting and better defense. After hitting just 34.5 percent of their shots before intermission, the Tigers made 58.3 percent (21-36 field goals) in the second half and forced a dozen turnovers, twice the number from the opening period.

Auburn improved to 8-5 as a crowd of 8,169 watched at Auburn Arena. It was the second largest turnout in the arena's history for a non-conference game.

“Give North Alabama a lot of credit,” Pearl said. “I spent nine years in Division II and historically (they) are one of better Division II programs, certainly in this part of the country. I like playing them, I like playing West Alabama.

“It is the right thing to do to give those guys the opportunity to have that one bright shining moment and they took advantage of it,” Pearl said. “I hope some of those guys enjoyed being in this environment.”

The Tigers played their preseason exhibition game vs. West Alabama, which also plays in the Gulf South Conference.

Harrell matched his season high total of 25 points from the Clemson game. The guard hit 9-16 field goals, 4-7 threes and 3-5 free throws while adding six rebounds, three assists and two steals.

In the second half Harrell used his size advantage to score inside. “I am always looking for the three-ball if it is open, but at certain times you have to look at what you have got and try to get in the paint, try to find guys open and try to make plays. I think I did that in second half.”

The Tigers trailed most of the first half and didn’t take their first lead until the 5:29 mark when Harrell hit a three to put Auburn up 23-22. UNA’s largest lead was 19-10 at the 10:18 mark.

Halftime Numbers: The Tigers trailed for more than 15 minutes in the opening half and were up just 32-30 at intermission. Auburn was outshot 38 to 34 percent in the period with AU making 4-13 threes and 8-13 free throws. The Lions made 1-9 threes and 1-2 free throws. Auburn held a 24-20 rebounding edge and committed nine turnovers, three more than the visitors. Harrell scored 13 of Auburn’s points in the half.

Antoine Mason his 6-13 field goals for the Tigers.

Stat of the Game: Auburn outscored the Lions 31-16 in points off of turnovers with a 24-5 advantage in the second half.

On Point: With Tajh Shamsid-Deen being held out of the game with a sore shoulder, K.C. Ross-Miller started at point guard and shared the assignment with Canada. Ross-Miller hit just 1-5 field goals, but finished with six assists to just one turnover while making four steals. Canada scored eight points, added five assists with two turnovers and made three steals.

Malcolm Canada makes a pass while being double-teamed by the Lions.

“Malcolm’s minutes have been creeping up since I have been playing him some at four (power forward),” Pearl said. “It is going to be interesting to see how much I can do that in the SEC when we go up against these monsters and all of that size.”

Worth Noting: The game marked the first time the Tigers and Lions played since the 1960-61 season. Auburn improved its record to 4-0 vs. North Alabama.

Granger Limited: Jordon Granger started, but played just four minutes due to pain with a hamstring injury he has been rehabbing.

Visiting Coach: UNA coach Bobby Champagne said, “First, I’d like to thank Coach Pearl and his staff for having us. It’s a great opportunity for our players to come and play in this kind of environment, it’s been a while for this group of guys to be able to play in this kind of environment. He was gracious enough to play us when he was at Tennessee. Coach Tony Jones called us and wanted to play us again so I was very appreciative of him to do that. It’s always nice when the in state schools play Division II schools. I know they played West Alabama earlier.

"Second thing, I was happy with our guys' effort. Maybe we ran out of gas, we’ve only got nine guys. We’ve had nine guys in the last week of practice. It’s hard to go five on five full court and we like to play at a fast pace and so maybe we got a little winded. You have got to give Auburn credit for coming out in the second half and playing with more intensity on both ends of the floor."

Freshman Learning: Center Trayvon Reed finished with two points and three rebounds in 10 minutes. Pearl said that he would like to see the seven-foot-two freshman play more, but noted that he has to “earn” more playing time.

Up Next: The Tigers open SEC play with an 8 p.m. CST game at Vanderbilt on Tuesday.

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