The Tigers stayed undefeated at 2-0 Friday by pounding the defending Sun Belt champions inside to win 86-64. Behind stellar performances by juniors Marco Killingsworth and Brandon Robinson the Tigers outscored Western Kentucky 44-24 in the paint.
Killingsworth was the star of the night for the Tigers as he led all scorers with 18 points. The forward also tacked on seven rebounds and four assists. Robinson helped with the dirty work inside as well adding 15 points and seven rebounds.
Along with the strong play inside the Tigers were aided by solid games by the guards Friday night. Junior Ian Young dropped in 16 points, going 4-5 from the three-point line while only committing two turnovers in his role of replacing starting point guard Lewis Monroe, who is out with a broken foot. Monroe's other replacement, senior Chris Lollar, was also solid at the point while splitting time with Young. Lollar added three points, but more importantly, he gave the Tigers 20 minutes at the point with only one turnover.
Nathan Watson plays defense for the Tigers, who held Western Kentucky to 37.9 percent shooting.
Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis said that the physical play by the Tigers was a big key to the victory. "They are a good team and they are going to win a lot of games but I was proud of our team, Ellis said. "I thought that we came in and we matched the physical play that we expected out of Western Kentucky."
Despite the fact that the Tigers jumped out to a quick 16-4 lead on a Killingsworth baseline dunk with just over 15 minutes left in the first half, the Hilltoppers hung tough and mounted an 8-0 run of their own, capped by a three-pointer to tie the game at 24 with 9:03 remaining in the half by senior guard Mike Wells.
After battling back and forth for the remainder of the half, a Kyle Davis lay-up gave the Tigers a 40-34 lead with only 24 seconds remaining. However, with only seven seconds left sophomore guard Anthony Winchester drew Western Kentucky within three by draining a three-point shot to send the game to the locker room at 40-37.
Following the intermission the Tigers and Hilltoppers battled back and forth for the opening 10 minutes of the second half. However, one point was as close as Western Kentucky would ever get, at 47-46 with 13:36 remaining in the game.
With 10:01 remaining the Tigers began their push with a lay-up by Ronnie LeMelle, which made the score 53-47. The junior added six points and four rebounds to the Tigers' effort. LeMelle's lay-up was followed with another by Killingsworth to push the Tigers' lead to 55-47 with 8:56 remaining. Following two free throws by Robinson, the Tigers drove the dagger into the Hilltoppers when junior forward Quinnel Brown brought the crowd to life as he hit a huge three with 8:12 remaining to give the Tigers a 12-point lead at 59-47.
Quinnel Brown launches a three-pointer on Friday night. He hit two of four three-pointers and scored 12 points.
Ellis noted that shot by Brown was certainly a key to the late run. "Well you know it got the crowd into it," he said. "I mean any question about it there are two things that will get a crowd into it at home and that's a dunk or a trey and his trey was big, Ellis said."
Following Brown's three, 6-11 center Nigel Dixon, who had 11 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 3:22 remaining in the game, drew Western Kentucky as close as they would get for the remainder of the contest at 59-49 with 7:50 remaining.
Ellis explained that 350-pound senior transfer from Florida State was tough for the Tigers to handle the short time he was in the game. "We were fortunate to get Dixon in foul trouble," Ellis said. "He's a load inside. I mean he got 11 points in 17 minutes. It's fortunate for us that he didn't play any longer--he was a load down there."
Following Dixon's lay-up the Tigers pulled away and never looked back as Lollar hit a three on the following possession to pull the Tigers back out to a 62-49 lead. Shortly after that the Hilltoppers had to start fouling and the Tigers again hit their free-throw shots down the stretch to maintain the victory. Following a tough first half from the charity stripe shooting only 3-8, the Tigers picked things up in the second half hitting 16-21, good for 76.2 percent and 65.5 percent for the game.
For the Hilltoppers the star of the game was the undersized guard Antonio Haynes. The junior is listed at 6-0, 185 however, he would be lucky to weigh in at 170 soaking wet. Still, despite his size Haynes could certainly play as he was Western Kentucky's leading scorer with 15 points. The guard also added six assists and five rebounds for the visiting team.
Along with Haynes, Mike Wells added 12 points and five rebounds to the Hilltoppers effort while Anthony Winchester gunned in 12 points and grabbed eight boards.
For the Tigers it was a solid win against a quick team that much like College of Charleston put pressure on the Auburn's untested guards. After only turning the ball over 12 times in the first contest of the year the Tigers were even more stingy on Friday night by only giving it up 10 times.
Prior to Friday night's game Robinson spoke to his teammates in the locker room. He told them that even though he did not play against Western Kentucky last season redemption was all that he was thinking about.
"Man, I mean I wasn't playing last year the first semester, I had sat out.," he said. "But I went to the game and it wasn't looking good down there, you know they won by 19 points. And I just felt bad and I just couldn't see myself in that game getting beat like that so I told the team in the locker room that there was no way that they were going to come out there and beat me that bad. You know, we have got to come out and play hard, give it all we have got because we can't have two times like that."
The 2-0 Tigers will return to action Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum against Maryland-Eastern Shore. Ellis warned his team about the dangers of becoming too happy with what they have accomplished. "I told our team that we have had two very good wins and we cannot act like the fat cow," Ellis said. "I mean we have been to the supper table and we can't go in here and get fat and lazy, I mean we just can't do that. We have got to be ready."