Athens, Ga.--Despite leading much of the game the Auburn Tigers fell behind by nine points with 5:17 to play before rallying for a surprising 69-68 SEC basketball victory over the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum.
A jump shot by K.C. Ross-Miller with 1:40 remaining cut the UGA lead to 63-62, setting the stage for a defensive stop and a three-point bomb by K.T. Harrell with 59 seconds left to give Auburn the lead the Tigers held on to in a dramatic final minute.
Malcolm Canada stretched the margin to three points by making one of two free throws with 37.9 seconds remaining.
After a layup by Georgia’s Charles Mann to cut the lead to one, Auburn’s Antoine Mason nailed two free throws with 23.1 seconds left to make the score 68-65. Another free throw by Harrell with 7.4 seconds left, after a missed three-pointer by Nemanja Djurisic, put the Tigers on top 69-65.
Georgia then hit a three-pointer by Kenny Gaines and called a timeout with 1.8 seconds left. Canada overthrew the in-bounds pass to the front court, bringing the ball back to the baseline for UGA to have a chance to win. Djurisic forced up an off-balance shot from the corner that wasn’t close and the Tigers earned the upset victory.
"If they had gotten the ball in-bounds there, shot it and won it, you would have to scrape me off the floor with a spatula," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.
Pearl talks to K.C. Ross-Miller after the Auburn victory in Athens.
Auburn improved to 12-13 overall and 4-8 in the SEC. Georgia fell to 16-8 overall and 7-5 in the SEC.
Harrell led the Tigers with 21 points. The senior guard make 7-13 field goals, 2-6 treys and 5-6 free throws.
Ross-Miller scored 17 points as he hit 6-10 field goals, 1-1 from three-point range and was 4-4 at the foul line as the Tigers made 18-25 free throws as a team.
Mason scored nine points and fellow senior guard Canada added eight for the Tigers.
Mason didn’t arrive in Athens until shortly before game time after making the trip from New York City where he had been since Wednesday to spend time with his father, former NBA star Anthony Mason, as he tries to recover from a heart attack.
Malcolm Canada took an expanded role at point guard vs. the Bulldogs.
Gaines scored 18 points for the Bulldogs while Mann added 14 points for Coach Mark Fox’s team.
“I am just happy for the kids,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who said his team took advantage of what he called a good defensive game plan and a quickness edge over the taller Bulldogs to pull off the upset.
“Georgia is built to beat more traditional teams,” Pearl said. “We are anything but a traditional team with our roster.”
Pearl, whose team was playing without guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen who is out for the season, said, “We may be short on certain things, but I don’t think we are short on character.”
The Tigers led almost the entire first half as Auburn executed a motion offense well, controlling possession much of the period. The biggest lead came early at 12-4 on an inside move by Harrell.
Pearl played 10 Tigers in the opening half. Freshman Trayvon Reed and walk-on Devin Waddell got extensive playing time in the period after Cinmeon Bowers picked up his second foul at the 15:28 mark and did not return to action until the second half. Waddell, who had been sick during the week with a fever, wasn’t cleared to make the trip until Friday afternoon.
Georgia tied the game at 3:01 left in the opening half and took its first lead with a pair of free throws to go ahead 24-22, but the visitors finished on top 29-28 at the break.
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers hit 9-26 field goals, 3-10 treys and 8-8 free throws in the period. Georgia made 7-23 field goals, 2-6 threes and 12-15 free throws. Georgia held an 18-17 rebounding edge and Auburn had four turnovers, one less than the Bulldogs. Ross-Miller led the Tigers in scoring at the break with nine while Jordon Granger scored eight points. Gaines led UGA with seven points.
Georgia scored the first five points to start the second half, but Auburn bounced back and regained the lead. The game stayed close the rest off the way, although the Tigers looked to be in trouble in the closing minutes as the home team threatened to built its advantage into double figures. However, good shooting down the stretch helped Auburn pull out the victory.
“We just stuck in there and kept fighting, kept talking and nobody was down,” Harrell said of how his team was able to come back late in the game. “That is how we caught up--everyone was focusing.”
Auburn shot 44.9 percent for the game, including 13-23 field goals (56.5 percent) after halftime. UGA shot 37.7 percent from the field and made just 4-19 three-pointers while the Tigers made 7-17 treys.
UGA held a 39-33 rebounding edge and turned the ball over 10 times, two less than the Tigers.
"Give Auburn credit," Fox said of his team's play. "Don't take anything away from Auburn, but we just got exactly what we deserved. We let them shoot 50-plus percent in the second half. We had a lead and didn't close the game.
"We gave up a free throw rebound and then fouled a guy, left the best shooter in the league wide open, and we didn't finish it," the coach added. "It's disappointing, but give Auburn credit for outplaying us."
Auburn's coach said there was a lot to like about his team's play, including what it says about the direction of the team. "It was a good win for our program and it is really important to win here in Georgia," Pearl said. "This is fertile recruiting ground. Mark (Fox) has this program going and the fact that people respect Georgia basketball now under Mark Fox, the fact we were able to come in here and win, it is going to serve us well."
Antoine Mason drives vs. the Bulldogs.
First Start: Freshman guard T.J. made his first college start. Lang did not take a shot in 17 minutes and finished with one rebound.
On the Bench: Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who is out for the season, was with the team on the bench. He is scheduled to have surgery on his left shoulder on Thursday. The sophomore guard will have a second surgery later in the year to repair his right shoulder.
Up Next: The Tigers will play host to Alabama for an 8 p.m. game on Tuesday at Auburn Arena.