Backups Spark Auburn to SEC Victory

Alex Thompson and Devin Waddell came through the Auburn basketballTigers in the conference tournament opener, a victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Devin Waddell (above) is a six-foot-five junior walk-on forward.

Nashville, Tenn.--It was a classic case of better late than never this season for sophomore forward Alex Thompson, who was one of the key performers in Auburn’s 74-68 SEC Basketball Tournament victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday night.

The former walk-on from Dothan scored 16 points, hitting six of his seven field goal attempt, and was a perfect three for three on treys. He added three rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal.

Thompson’s teammates, and head coach Bruce Pearl, had seen the sophomore play that way in practice, but not in a game. Thompson’s previous high points total was eight points.

“It was definitely a confidence booster for me going forward considering how the season has gone so far personally,” Thompson told Inside the Auburn Tigers.

Alex Thompson is pleased after hitting a three-point field goal vs. Mississippi State.

In recent games Thompson had picked up his defensive play, but had not come through offensively like he did against the Bulldogs. The sophomore said that encouragement from an assistant coach has motivated him to perform at a higher level.

“Steven Pearl told me I have a high defensive IQ and if I just set my mind to it I can guard as good as anyone here,” Thompson said. “I have been trying to do that. He told me just go out there and guard and the offense will come.”

On a night when starter Cinmeon Bowers struggled the Tigers needed more inside help off the bench than just Thompson. Walk-on forward Devin Waddell’s play excited the Auburn coaches and his teammates as much as Thompson’s did.

Waddell, who played an unusually high total of 16 minutes, drew two charges, scored four points, pulled in four rebounds and combined with Thompson did a good job defending Mississippi State’s bigger inside players.

“Every time I step on the court I am excited to play,” said Waddell, who was celebrating the victory by eating a postgame pizza. “I am just blessed to have the opportunity to be out there.”

Asked if he was confident he could get the job done, Waddell said, “Yes, because I knew everything I needed to know before the game because of the way Coach (Bruce) Pearl prepares us.”

A head-first dive for an offensive rebound that was passed outside to Thompson, who hit a key three-point shot in Auburn’s drive to pull away late in the contest, was one of the most impressive plays of the season for the Tigers.

Waddell said it didn’t surprise him a bit when Thompson nailed that three and the other shots he took vs. the Bulldogs. “When Alex doesn’t think about it the shot is usually going in because he is a great shooter,” Waddell said. “He did a great job shooting and he played great defense. I am just happy for him.”

Auburn’s leading scorer in the game, senior guard K.C. Ross-Miller who scored 21 points, was fired up about the play of the reserve forwards who helped Auburn outscore the Bulldogs 24-11 in bench points.

“Devin was really big in this game,” Ross-Miller said. “He brought something we needed because he was great on defense. He took charges and was hustling. He got deflections and rebounds. We saw the way he was playing with energy and it helped all of us play up to that level of intensity.” Commenting on Thompson, a former walk-on who was put on scholarship last season, Ross-Miller said. “We have been waiting for Alex to play like this. We knew he was capable of doing it and he picked the right time to do it. We are happy for him and proud for him.”

With the victory over Mississippi State the Tigers advance to round two of the SEC Tournament vs. Texas A&M. It will be the second game of the first session of the day with the tipoff expected to be around 2 p.m. CDT at Bridgestone Arena.

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