Auurn, Ala.--The Ole Miss Rebels came out of the locker at halftime making most of their shots and never cooled as the visitors held off Auburn 86-79 in an SEC basketball game on Saturday night at soldout Auburn Arena.
The Tigers managed to stay close until the final minutes, cutting the gap to two points, but the Rebels were deadly with their shooting with the game on the line, something the Tigers couldn’t overcome.
In the second half Ole Miss hit a sizzling 15-21 shots from the field for 71.4 percent. That total included five makes on six three-point shots. The Rebels, who came into the game as the SEC’s top free throw shooting team, nailed 20-24 in the second half to finish 28-38 for the game.
Auburn shot well in the second half, hitting 50 percent of its field goals to finish at 40.4 percent for the game compared to 57.8 percent for the visitors.
“It is very disappointing, it is very frustrating,” said Auburn senior Antoine Mason, who led all scorers with 23 points. “Like I told me teammates, we were right there. We just have to make stops.”
Coach Bruce Pearl said he was frustrated, too. “You can’t give up 86 points and win,” he said. “You can’t send an opponent to the foul line 38 times and win. You can’t let an opponent shoot 71 percent in the second half and win. That is the story of the game.
Pearl said the Tigers did a good job defensively in the first half defending what Ole Miss was doing with its screens, but noted that Coach Andy Kennedy made adjustments at halftime to take advantage of his team’s strong guard play. “I thought we had a hard time guarding them,” Pearl said.
“It was really difficult," Pearl added. "I thought we did a decent job on Stefan Moody. In the second half he obviously blew up. Five out of seven of their guards are top scorers. Our guards had a hard time just staying in front of them. Our bigs didn’t hedge up big enough. They are a really good team.”
Antoine Mason now has back-to-back 20-point scoring games.
Mason, a senior guard, hit 7-14 field goals with 3-8 behind the three-point line for the Tigers. K.T. Harrell scored 16 points, Tahj Shamsid-Deen finished with 13 points while Malcolm Canada added 12 points off the bench.
Cinmeon Bowers finished the night with his 14th double-double of the season with 13 rebounds and 11 points.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, whose team has now won five in a row, said his Rebels had a “gutty performance” to win their 16th game to go with seven losses.
Auburn dropped to 11-12 for the season and 3-7 in the SEC while the Rebels improved to 7-3 in the conference.
The Tigers led the majority of the first half, but were on top by just a point at intermission. The biggest lead for Ole Miss in the period was a single point while the Tigers led by as many as six at the 8:40 mark.
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers led 32-31 at the break despite being outshot 45.8 to 31.0 percent from the field and trailing 21-19 in rebounds. Auburn hit 9-29 field goals and hit 6-18 threes along with 8-13 free throws. The Rebels hit 11-24 field goals, 1-9 threes and 8-14 free throws. Harrell led all scorers at the break with 12 points. Three Rebels scored six points apiece.
The Rebels came out hot shooting in the second half, hitting seven of their first 10 field goals and 3-3 treys prompting Pearl to call at timeout at the 13:16 mark with Ole Miss up 50-43.
The Tigers managed to cut the lead to two points, but couldn’t get any closer thanks to clutch shooting by the Rebels.
Ole Miss led in rebounds 34-30. That, and the good shooting, allowed the visitors to win despite Auburn turning the ball over just eight times, five fewer than Ole Miss.
Mason said the crowd was impressive, a standing-room only turnout at Auburn Arena with many fans trying to get tickets not able to do it. "You hear the crowd and it just gets you hyped up," he said.
The guard has been shooting the ball well recently. "More opportunities have presented themselves to me lately," he said. "I am just taking advantage of it."
Tajh Shamsid-Deen got the start at point guard.
Worth Noting: Although game has been sold out for more than a week, numerous fans tried to buy tickets outside Auburn Arena and many went away empty-handed.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The Ole Miss coach said he was impressed with the atmosphere at Auburn Arena. “I thought the crowd tonight was tremendous,” Kennedy said. “They continued to will their team along.”
Stat of the Game: Ole Miss outscored the Tigers 34-14 in bench points. “That is one of the things that makes them a contender,” Pearl said. “They don’t have a dropoff when they go to the bench.”
Kennedy noted that his team's depth advantage was a big deal, saying Auburn’s top three players of Harrell, Mason and Bowers are as good of a one-two-three combo as any team in the SEC. However, after that there is a big difference. “Bruce’s team has depth problems,” Kennedy noted.
“I had four guys play 30-plus minutes and it is a factor--a real factor,” Pearl said. “It showed on the defensive end in the second half.”
Up Next: The Tigers will stay at home for a Tuesday 8 p.m. game vs. Arkansas.