Kareem Canty (above) played a strong all-around game for the Tigers on Tuesday night.
Auburn, Ala.--Wounded but still dangerous, Kareem Canty nailed a three-pointer with 29 seconds left and the game in jeopardy as the Auburn basketball Tigers defeated Mercer 78-71 on Tuesday night at Auburn Arena.
Canty, who hobbled through the second half after injuring his ankle on a drive to the basket, led the Tigers with 21 points, six assists and no turnovers in 31 minutes of action.
Before heading to the locker room after the contest to ice his injury, he iced the victory by making a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left to put the Tigers up 76-71. A fastbreak stuff by Cinmeon Bowers to beat the buzzer extended Auburn's final margin to seven points.
“I knew I was shooting,” Canty said of the three-pointer that put the Tigers up 72-68 after the Bears had cut an 11-point Auburn lead to one. “The clock was getting low and we were kind of going through a stretch where we couldn’t score against the zone,” Canty said.
The junior point guard pointed out that his original plan was to take the basketball and drive to the basket, but when he saw the opening for the trey he fired the shot.
“My ankle was hurting me since I came back on the court,” he said, noting "adrenalin" got him through to the finish on a night he played 31 minutes.
Coach Bruce Pearl, who pointed out that he was impressed with Mercer, said, “I thought we did a good job defensively all-around. Coach (Todd) Golden, Coach (Chuck) Person put together an outstanding game plan for what they did. They are hard to guard.”
Starting guard T.J. Lang, the SEC’s top three-point shooter for accuracy, played just four minutes after injuring his ankle and Achilles tendon. Pearl said the sophomore will be out of action for a while, but did not know long that will be. “I don’t know about Saturday,” he said. “For us things got dicey when T.J. Lang went down,” Pearl said.
The coach noted that Canty will have to rest his ankle, too, but should be ready for the next game vs. Xavier on Saturday. “Obviously, he made game-winning plays when he had to,” said Pearl, who noted the three-point bomb is something the guard can regularly hit. “He has probably made about a dozen of those this year.”
Pearl said that he liked the way his team found a way to win on a night when it wasn’t as sharp as he hoped. “We showed a little bit a heart, a little bit of character,”?the coach said. “Our team is coming together.”
Tyler Harris chipped in with a double-double for a third consecutive game, scoring 20 points and pulling in 11 rebounds while adding several big defensive plays in the closing minutes. He has four double-doubles this season.
Tyler Harris scores inside for the Tigers.
Harris, who made several key stops defensively late in the game, was asked if he tried to turn up his intensity in crunch time and said, “Absolutely. We really wanted that stop at the end in the last few minutes and they were really giving us some plays where they were really getting guys open. So the last couple minutes of the game, you have to lock down and get those stops defensively as a team so we can finish the game out strong.”
Cinmeon Bowers also double-doubled with 13 points and 12 rebounds while T.J. Dunans finished with 14 points for the Tigers, who improved to 5-2.
Mercer, which fell to 8-2, got a career-high 28 points from Jestin Lester, who hit 11-19 field goals for the Bears, including a basket with with 1:53 left to cut Auburn's lead to 69-68. “I give Mercer a lot of credit,” said Pearl, who called Lester’s performance “phenomenal.”
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers led 32-31 at the break despite being outshot (39.4 percent to 36.4 percent) and trailing 27-19 in rebounding. Auburn hit 12-33 field goals, 4-13 threes and 4-8 free throws in the period. Mercer hit 13-33 field goals, 3-14 threes and 2-5 free throws. The Tigers had just four turnovers, two fewer than Mercer and Dunans led the team in first half points with a dozen.
Auburn built the lead to double figures early in the second half, but couldn’t shake the Bears until the close minutes although the Tigers led for 26 minutes and six seconds.
For the game the Tigers hit 29-67 field goals for 43.3 percent while Mercer made 28-62 for 45.2 percent. Auburn was 9-26 on threes while Mercer hit 6-19. Both teams struggled at the foul line. Mercer hit 9-16 free throws while Auburn made 11-20.
The Tigers outscored Mercer 40-34 in the paint, 11-4 in points off of turnovers and 14-9 for fastbreak points.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn players headed to the exits to thank the fans for showing up before going to the postgame locker room. A crowd of 8,033 came out out for the contest.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The Tigers got only 10 bench points with freshman Bryce Brown scoring eight points in 31 minutes of action in relief of T.J. Lang. Horace Spencer added two points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Tahj Shamsid-Deen made his return from his latest shoulder injury and played 12 minutes. He was 0-3 shooting, all treys, while adding four assists without a turnover. Pearl noted that the Tigers were plus eight in points scored when Shamsid-Deen was on the court. “He makes us better,”?Pearl said.
Stat of the Game: Auburn overcame a 46-38 rebounding deficit by turning the ball over only seven times, four fewer than the Bears, along with blocking six shots. Dunans got four of those blocks.
Up Next: The Tigers will travel to Cincinnati to play the Xavier Musketeers at 11 a.m. CST on Saturday. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.