The EA Sports All-Stars hit nine second half three-pointers to rally from a 16-point deficit and held on for an 83-81 victory on Friday night in the exhibition opener for the Tigers.
Auburn lost the game despite a big effort from junior forward Brandon Robinson who scored 22 points and added 11 rebounds even though he had to leave the game twice with cramps to his calf. Robinson added five assists and made his only foul shot. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the rest of the team didn't follow his lead at the free throw line.
Brandon Robinson played 33 strong minutes for the Tigers.
The Tigers hit just 10-21 free throws. "Making free throws is what wins games," said Robinson, pointing out what he thought was a major reason for the loss.
Coach Cliff Ellis agreed and added that he thought the Tigers slacked off defensively in the second half after building a 51-35 lead on a layup by Marco Killingsworth with 16:24 to play. "Our defense has got to pick up," Ellis said. "We gave up too many uncontested shots in the second half. I thought it was pretty good in the first half. I thought our foul shooting was the nemesis on offense. We scored enough points to win. Defensively, we are going to have to pick it up. They (EA Sports) are group that can score.
"The big thing was watching the new guys," Elis added. "When I look at that overall it was pretty good for the first time. We are having to adjust. We have had a day or two to adjust. We have another week and have got to dig in. We have another exhibition game on Thursday and then it is the real deal."
The good news for the Tigers is that point guard Lewis Monroe's foot surgery went very well on Friday, Ellis said. The starter was lost in practice with a fractured bone in his foot on Tuesday. Ellis said that in the best case scenario Monroe could be back in time for Auburn's road trip to Las Vegas on Dec. 20th. If that doesn't happen, Ellis said there is a very good chance he could be back in action by the start of SEC play on Jan. 10th vs. Ole Miss.
With Monroe out, newcomer Ian Young got the start at point guard. He said that he is more comfortable as a two guard although he had a solid effort at the point. He made four of nine shots, scored 14 points, added three assists with one turnover and one steal in 29 minutes. Backup point Chris Lollar played 12 minutes. He made one of three shots, had one assist and two turnovers.
Auburn led 39-27 at halftime. Robinson sparked the Tigers early by scoring his team's first nine points and had 13 by intermission. The visitors put up 15 treys in the first half, but made just two. That changed in the second half as they hit 9-15 to spark the comeback.
Mark Jones, a six-foot-six forward from Central Florida, did much of the damage. He hit 10-20 shots, including five of eight three-pointers and led all scorers with 25. Johnny Parker also got hot for EA Sports. The 6-8 forward from Missouri hit 7-10 field goals and scored 19 points.
"I thought the other team made some big shots," Ellis said. "They aren't bad. That is a pretty good group."
Auburn outrebounded the visitors 46-37 and had 21 turnovers, one more than EA Sports. For the game the field goal shooting was a draw. The Tigers made 47.1 percent of their shots to 47.2 for EA Sports.
Ellis gave a lot of playing time to his three newcomers as a crowd of 4,100 watched the action. Quinnel Brown came off the bench to score 12 points and add five rebounds in 25 minutes. Ronny LeMelle started and played 29 minutes. He was 2-6 from the field and scored seven points with seven rebounds.
"I thought they did some good things,"Ellis said of Young, Brown and LeMelle. "It is a situation they will learn from. I really thought overall the new guys did a good job. The film will show a lot. We will use this as a learning experience."
EA Sports coach Phil Bryant had praise for the home team. "Auburn's inside play is tremendous," he said. "Whenever they get the ball within two feet of the hole, they're a very tough team to play. We didn't expect them to be that tough and consistent from the inside."
Marco Killingsworth scored 13 points for Auburn. Kyle Davis added 10 points and nine rebounds despite limping on his sprained ankle.
Nathan Watson struggled as the starting two guard. He was 0-8 from the field and made finished with a single point. Rodney Tucker played for two minues and did not score as Auburn used nine players.
The Tigers return to action on Thursday with another exhibition game vs. the Global Sports All-Stars. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.