Nelson And Rams A Big Test For Tigers

Auburn welcomes Colorado State to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in a battle of NCAA Tournament teams from last season.

Auburn, Ala.--After taking care of business in Huntsville with an easy victory over the Grambling State on night, the Auburn Tigers return home Monday night to face the Colorado State Rams in the second of four games in 12 days for Coach Cliff Ellis' team.

Auburn enters the game a perfect 4-0 on the season while the Rams are 2-1 with their only loss coming at Oklahoma State.

With two impressive victories under their belts this season, the Tigers are looking for a third when they face the Rams, a team that went 19-14 last season and lost to Duke 67-57 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Led by junior center Matt Nelson, the Rams are a powerful team in the paint offensively and create problems because of their athleticism. An NBA prospect, the 7-0, 255-pound Nelson is averaging 14.7 points and five rebounds this season and is coming off a 22-point performance in a victory at Drake Saturday.

Ellis said that Nelson and the Rams will present a big challenge for his team as the Tigers look to remain perfect on the season.

"Colorado State has three starters back and they have six or seven players back that logged a lot of minutes," Ellis said of the experience the Rams have back from last year's team. "They have a seven-footer in Matt Nelson, who is a NBA-type player. It's a big, big game for us. I can't say enough. We had some tough games with College of Charleston and Western Kentucky, but this team coming in Monday is every bit of that.

"They have a very good basketball team," Ellis added. "We are going to have to go out and play a tremendous physical basketball game. We had two good quality RPI wins in the first week and this is going to be a RPI game."

In addition to Nelson, the Rams feature an athletic group of players who are inconsistent in the scoring department while playing good defense. Sophomore forward Freddy Robinson (6-5, 200) is second on the team in scoring at 7.3 points per game and pulls down 3.7 rebounds as well. Guard Shelton Johnson (6-3, 200) is also scoring 7.3 points per contest and is averaging 2.3 rebounds. Point guard Michael Morris (6-3, 208) leads the Rams in assists at 5 per game and is averaging 4.3 points.

Off the bench 6-5 forward Ronnie Clark has been the microwave for Colorado State, averaging 10.7 points and shooting 67 percent from the field.

For Morris this will be a homecoming, of sorts, because his father is Chris Morris, one of Auburn's greatest players ever. His father was a 6-8 forward starred for Coach Sonny Smith from 1985-1988 and finished his career with 1,717 points, good enough for seventh on Auburn's all-time list. Known for his powerful dunks and athletic play on the court, Morris led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament in all four of his seasons and averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds as a senior in 1988. He was drafted fourth overall by the New Jersey Nets and played for 12 seasons with three different NBA teams.

Brandon Robinson dunks in an earlier game for the Tigers.

While the Rams have been dependent on Nelson and Clark to provide the offensive spark, Auburn has been led by steady offensive output from all five starters this season and two players off the bench. Leading the Tigers in just about every category this season is junior forward Brandon Robinson. The 6-8 Huntsville native is averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game and contributed 21 points, six rebounds and six steals against Grambling Saturday night.

Robinson has shown improvement in almost every phase of the game this season and is a major reason why the Tigers have been more consistent in the early season than many expected despite playing without starting point guard Lewis Monroe.

Teaming with Robinson to give the Tigers an imposing front line is junior Marco Killingsworth. A 6-7, 235-pounder, Killingsworth is the bruiser for Auburn in the paint and also has a deft touch on the ball. Averaging 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds this season he has shown that he can take his game to another level when called upon.

Perhaps the biggest surprises of the season have been junior college transfers Quinnel Brown (6-6, 210), Ian Young (6-3, 200) and Ronny Lemelle (6-5, 200). The trio are averaging 29.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per game between them and Young is leading the team in assists at three per contest from his point guard position.

Rounding out the Auburn attack are junior Nathan Watson and senior center Kyle Davis. Auburn's starting shooting guard, the 6-3 Watson is scoring 8.5 points per contest and has come out of an early season shooting funk. The 6-10 Davis continues to be a force in the paint on defense for the Tigers, averaging 1.8 blocks and 6.3 rebounds per game. He has also come through offensively this season and is averaging 8.8 points per game with 14 points in just 14 minutes against Grambling.

The game will be televised live by Fox Sports Net and is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. CST. Ater the Monday night game, Tigers return to action Saturday at 2 p.m. when they host the Air Force Academy.

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