Cincinnati, Ohio--Entering Saturday’s game against No. 10 Xavier, Coach Bruce Pearl knew his Auburn basketball team was going to be challenged by a deep and physical Musketeer squad and that was the case from start to finish as the Tigers fell 85-61 to drio to 5-3 on the season.
Despite a game-high 25 points from guard Kareem Canty and a double-double from Cinmeon Bowers with 12 points and 11 rebounds it wasn’t nearly enough for Auburn as Xavier big man Jalen Reynolds scored 18 points to lead five Musketeers in double figures with Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett adding 13 each.
Entering the game 10-0 and with the top RPI in the country, Xavier didn’t do anything to hurt those numbers on Saturday as ththe Musketeers raced out to an early lead and never looked back on the way to their 11th victory of the season. Pearl said the slow start was one of the keys for his team as they fell on the road.
“We did not get off to a good start and they did,” Auburn's second-year head coach said. “I thought our kids battled back and played them even for much of the first half. In the second half they physically just overwhelmed us on the inside. We’re not a really big team physically. We’re big enough, but when we go up against teams like that, their inside-outside stuff was overwhelming. They beat us by 22 on the offensive glass and we lost by 24.
Getting outrebounded 42-26 and turning the ball over 14 times, Auburn was up against the wall for the entire game with Tyler Harris struggling, fouling out with just four points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. Because of that Canty had to take things over for the Tigers and he delivered, scoring his 25 points on 8-16 shooting from the floor and 5-9 from behind the arc. The rest of the team made just two out of 11 shots from three-point range, however.
“Against a good team like that you can’t start out slow,” Canty said. “They held on to the lead and never gave it up. We cut the lead back to nine (at the half), but they just never really gave that momentum up.
“When it got out of hand I felt like it was time for me to go,” he added. “We weren’t trying to get run out of the gym, even though we still did. I tried to do as much as I could to cut the lead, but it still got away from us.”
Guard T.J. Dunans was the only other Auburn player in double figures with 10 points on 4-10 shooting as the Tigers were held to just 40.9 percent shooting for the game. With Xavier scoring at a 50 percent clip, many from close range, Bowers said it was just a tough test.
“We were down by nine going to the second half, but we just didn’t come out with that intensity,” the senior forward said. “We really didn’t have that intensity from the get-go. We tried to build some in the locker room and did our best, but you see the outcome.
“It’s tough,” Bowers said. “They are big guys, but we’re tough too. We just have to lock in and play team defense.”
Cinmeon Bowers made just 4-11 shots, but connects on this three-pointer
It couldn’t have been much worse of a start for the Tigers against one of the top teams in the country on their homecourt, a place where Xavier seldom loses. Getting easy looks after knocking down two early three-pointers, the Musketeers raced to a 16-6 advantage just seven minutes in as Auburn made just three of its first 12 shots and turned the ball over four times.
A play by Reynolds with just over 12 minutes left in the first half summed up the start for both teams. Getting a rebound after tipping the ball to himself with three Tigers around him, Reynolds gathered and threw up a wild hook shot that hit the top of the backboard before falling into the basket from above. That gave Xaxier a 12-point cushion early and put Auburn in a serious hole.
The Tigers finally got some life as Canty got untracked with a long three-pointer followed by a drive and finish at the basket. However, a couple of costly Auburn turnovers pushed the lead back to a dozen for Xavier before Sumner’s long three with 8:51 remaining made it 26-11 Musketeers.
Canty’s strong play continued as he drained two more long threes down the stretch to keep the Tigers within striking distance. Going to the break Auburn trailed Xavier 39-30 despite turning the ball over seven times and connecting on just 10-25 field goals in the first half.
The second half started much the same way for the Tigers as quick whistles got Auburn in foul trouble early as Harris was forced to sit when he picked up his fourth foul early. Whistle after whistle killed any flow for the Tigers and Xavier responded by scoring 11 of the first 15 points after intermission to push the lead out to 50-34. Bluiett was the man mostly responsible with two long three-pointers to put Auburn into catch-up mode once again.
While Canty continued to score at a rapid pace with two more long range bombs it wasn’t nearly enough as his layup and a three by Bowers cut the lead down to 11, but that would be as close as Auburn would get the rest of the way.
From that point forward it was all Xavier as the depth and size took over for the Musketeers. With Harris on the bench after fouling out with over 12 minutes remaining with just four points it was all over but the shouting for Auburn on this day. The lead eventually ballooned to 22 at 80-58 with Dunans was called for a foul on an attempted dunk with 3:37 remaining. He became the second Tiger to foul out and the 23rd foul of the day for Auburn.
Xavier salted the game away in the final minutes to keep its record perfect at 11-0.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Xavier leads the all-time series vs. Auburn 5-4 after splitting the two-game, home-and-home series vs. the Tigers.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Canty has five 20-point scoring games this season and Bowers posted his third consecutive double-double for points/rebounds.
Stat of the Game: Xavier's 15-8 advantage in offensive rebounds helped the Musketeers outscore Auburn 24-2 on second chance opportunities.
Up Next: Auburn returns to action on Tuesday in Hawaii as the Tigers take on New Mexico in the first game of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m. CST and can be seen on ESPNU.