Photo by Jason Caldwell

Auburn Made Clutch Plays in the Final Minute to Defeat UAB 75-74

The Auburn basketball Tigers opened the regular season with a victory over the UAB Blazers as a sophomore and freshman made clutch plays in the closing seconds.

Kareem Canty (above) scored 20 points and dished out four assists for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Sophomore guard T.J. Lang nailed a three-pointer from the corner with 16.3 seconds left to erase Auburn's only deficit of the night and freshman  Horace Spencer  blocked UAB’s final shot as the Tigers defeated the Blazers 75-74 Friday night at Auburn Arena.

Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl said that during the timeout before UAB’s final shot he almost replaced Spencer, but the freshman convinced him to keep him in the game.

“I?just told Coach I’ve got his back,” Spencer said. “T.J. Lang came up with a clutch shot. He did his part, I wanted to do my part.”

Lang’s shot erased Auburn’s only deficit of a game the Blazers led for just 20 seconds. UAB caught the Tigers with 36 seconds left on the clock with a layup and foul shot by Robert Brown to move ahead 74-72.

The Blazers had gotten the ball back after Spencer lost it and he wanted to make amends, he said. He did it by doing something he had never done before--block a shot on the final play to preserve a win. “To tell the truth I haven’t done it,”?he said of the block that came with 1.8 seconds remaining.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Horace Spencer arrived at Auburn this season as a four-star recruit and showed that ability on Friday night as he celebrates the last of his five blocks that sealed the win.

The Tigers got 20 points from Kareem Canty, 17 from T.J. Dunans and 14 from Tyler Harris. Each was playing in his first regular season game for the Tigers as was Spencer, who finished the night with five points, seven rebounds and five of his team’s eight blocks. Newcomers scored 56 of Auburn’s 75 points.

Spencer's final block came against Chris Cokley, who carried the Blazers with 25 points and 12 rebounds. UAB’s coach, Jerod Haase, said Cokley is the player he wanted to take the final shot.

“We got Cokley the ball three or feet from the basket,” the coach said. “He just wasn’t able to finish the play.”

Auburn led by as many as 14 points in front of a packed house at Auburn Arena. Canty said he looked at the crowd in pre-game and was excited. “I told my teammates let’s give them a show,” he said.

Pearl said he liked what he saw from his Tigers. “It was a great win over a really good opponent,” he said. “Wins like that last all year long because UAB is going to have a great season and beat a lot of people.”

Lang agreed with his head coach. “This is something we can build off,” the sophomore guard said.

Pearl said he liked what he saw from his newcomers. “He is so chill,”?he said of Spencer. Commenting on Dunans, the coach said, “He is a gamer.”

Halftime Numbers: The Tigers led the whole first half and were up 40-37 at intermission, but led by 34-20 with 4:45 to play in the period on a layup by T.J. Dunans before the Blazers made a run.

The Tigers hit 13-29 field goals in the half for 45 percent and made 4-12 threes and 10-12 foul shots. The Blazers hit 16-39 field goals for 41 percent and were 0-5 on threes and 5-7 at the foul line.

UAB led in rebounds 23-20 and had three turnovers, two less than the Tigers.

Dunans led the Tigers in scoring at the break with 11 points and Tyler Harris scored 10. Chris Cokley led the Blazers with 11 first half points.

Worth Noting: UAB outscored the Tigers 48-28 for points in the paint and 40-8 in bench points with the Tigers having three guards not available. Tahj Shamsid-Deen is out with an injury as is New Williams. Bryce Brown was suspended for one game because he played in a summer league game...The Tigers hit 7-19 threes while UAB made 4-13...Auburn was 24-31 at the foul line while UAB hit 8-11 free throws...The Tigers shot 43.1 percent from the field and had 14 turnovers. UAB shot 44.3 percent and had 13 turnovers...Pearl is now 20-1 in his career in season openers, including 2-0 at Auburn. The Tigers defeated Milwaukee 83-73 last season in Pearl’s first game at Auburn...The Tigers have won their last three games vs. UAB...Kareem Canty, T.J. Dunans and Tyler Harris started in their Auburn debut for the Tigers, making it the first time Auburn has started three newcomers in a season opener since 2005 when freshmen Joey Cameron, Josh Dollard and Quantez Robertson started in the Tigers’ 69-54 victory vs. Lipscomb in the first game of the season for Coach Jeff Lebo...Auburn won its opener for a fifth consecutive season...Spencer's five blocks are the most for an Auburn player since Trayvon Reed had five vs. Xavier on Dec. 20, 2014. The last Tiger with more blocks was Asauhn Dixon-Tatum , who had seven vs. South Carolina on March 12, 2014.

Up Next: The Tigers will be at home at Tuesday with an unusual start time of 2 p.m. vs. Colorado, a game that will be part of ESPN’s 24-hour basketbal marathon. Pearl asked Auburn fans to make a special effort to show up at the unusual time.

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