Nashville, Tenn.--Struggles at the foul line were the difference as the Auburn basketball Tigers lost 88-81 in overtime on Saturday to Middle Tennessee State.
Auburn led the majority of the game, but damaged its chances of winning by hitting just 11-24 free throws. MTSU made 20-30 free throw attempts and improved its record to 6-2 while Auburn fell to 4-2.
Coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers got a strong performance by point guard Kareem Canty, who hit 8-13 three-pointers on the way to scoring 28 points. The junior hit four late treys in the final two minutes to help the visiting Tigers get the contest into overtime.
Senior forward Cinmeon Bowers scored 19 points and pulled in a career-high 19 rebounds while Tyler Harris, who fouled out, added 14 points and 13 rebounds. However, the other seven Tigers who played combined to score just 20 points.
Middle Tennessee State put five players into double figures led by 21 points from Reggie Upshaw. “That was one of the toughest games I?have ever played in college,” Upshaw said. “Their post players are tough. It was a battle for 45 minutes.”
MTSU’s coach, Kermit Davis, said he was impressed by Canty. “He made some of the dangest shots ever,” Davis said. “This is one of the better college games I have been part of for a long, long time. It is a big game for us. It is a big game for our program.”
Davis added, “I think that is a good Auburn team, a team that has a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament.”
After leading by nine points at halftime, the Tigers hurt their cause by making just 4-12 free throws in the second half and 2-4 in overtime.
For the game the Tigers hit 42.9 percent from the field and made 10-26 threes. MTSU hit 41.4 percent of its field goals and was 8-22 on threes.
“My teams play best when everybody contributes,” said Pearl, who noted there “was too big of a disparity” between his top contributors on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena and their teammates. “It is hard to beat a good team on the road when we don’t get more productivity from more players. This was obviously a lesson learned.
“We got the ball where we wanted it and did not finish,” Pearl pointed out. “We missed 10 free throws the second half.”
Pearl said his team’s slow start in the second half was a major issue, too, something MTSU’s Davis attributed to strong defense. “To start the second half, for a 10-minute stretch, that was about as well as we have guarded all year,” he said.
Coach Bruce Pearl wasn't pleased with his team's play after a good first half performance.
Pearl had high praise for his point guard, who put on a show for the crowd of 7,322 that included a good turnout of Auburn fans. “Kareem Canty was obviously very special,” he said, adding, “He was consistently giving great effort throughout the game. I thought he kept his composure throughout the game...He was really solid throughout.”
Canty, who turned the ball over just one time while dishing out seven assists in 39 minutes, hit a three-pointer with three seconds left to send the game into overtime. “Actually, my intention was to go in and try to get an and-one, but he cut me off so I stepped back,” Canty said on the three-point long range shot that tied the game 63-63 at the end of regulation. “That is my favorite move and it worked out for me.”
During a timeout late in second half the junior let Pearl know that he was ready to carry the load. “I told Coach it was getting kind of ugly and it was time for to take it over. He trusted me and he gave me play calls. I delivered some times.”
The guard, who matched his career high with 28 points, said that having a chance to get quickly back on the court on Tuesday for another game is a plus and will help the Tigers put a disappointing loss to MTSU behind them.
Cinemon Bowers looks to pass the basketball on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena.
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers turned the ball over just three times in the first 20 minutes while forcing eight turnovers by the Blue Raiders. That enabled the Tigers to get 35 first half field goals, six more than MTSU.
Auburn shot 42.9 percent in the first half while making 3-10 threes and 5-8 free throws. Harris led the scoring with a dozen points while Canty chipped in with eight points and Bowers scored seven points.
MTSU made 41.4 percent of its field goals, 4-11 three and 1-4 free throws in the first half and was out-rebounded 21-20.
Pearl said another issue for his team was that the Tigers only scored two fastbreak points while the Blue Raiders finished with 13.
The rebounding was even with both teams pulling in 47. Auburn turned the ball over 12 times, two fewer than MTSU.
Worth Noting: Auburn’s third leading scorer, T.J. Dunans, struggled with his shooting. He was 2-9 from the field, 0-3 on treys and 0-2 at the foul line. He also had five turnovers.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Middle Tennessee State made 9-10 free throws in overtime after hitting just 1-4 in the first half and 10-16 in the second half.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Bowers posted an SEC-leading 14 double-doubles last season. He has three as a senior.
Stat of the Game: Auburn missing 13 of its 24 free throws was a major issue.
Stat of the Game, Part 2: Canty's eight three-pointers are the most for an Auburn player since Tay Waller hit eight vs. Ole Miss on Feb. 24, 2010.
Up Next: The Tigers will return to action for their only appearance in Auburn Arena in the month of December when they play Mercer at 8 p.m. CST on Tuesday.