Strong play by newcomer Ronny LeMelle, who was making his second Auburn start, sparked the Tigers, who improved to 7-0. LeMelle hit 7-12 field goals and nailed four of six three-point shots to lead all scorers with 18 points.
"The kid who killed us was No. 33 (LeMelle)," said Montana coach Pat Kennedy.
LeMelle scored nine points in each half and added four assists, three steals and four rebounds for the Tigers. He helped the Tigers make 10 three-pointers, seven more than in their previous victory over Air Force.
Kennedy said Auburn's outside shooting really hurt his Grizzlies, who fell to 3-4 with the loss. "I was very proud of our effort," Kennedy said. "I was very proud of the way we got on the glass with them.
"It was kind of choose your poison," the Montana coach added. "We really thought we needed to take the middle of the floor away from them with Killingsworth (forward Marco Killingsworth) and Robinson (forward Brandon Robinson). I thought in the first half we did a good job with that, but then their outside shooting really began to hurt us."
Auburn's outside shooting helped the Tigers break open a close game after intermission as the home team outscored Montana 42-25 in the second half after leading just 31-26 at halftime.
Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said that the big difference from a sluggish first half for his team to a much better second half could be found in the rebounding statistics. At intermission, the Tigers had been outrebounded 22-16, but Auburn won that battle for the game by a 38-32 margin. The Grizzlies had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, but just got one the rest of the night.
"The huge difference between the first half and the second half is that we dominated the boards in the second half," Ellis said. "In the first half that was the first time I have seen our team get whipped on the glass this year."
LeMelle said that Ellis had some choice words for the Tigers in the locker room after the first 20 minutes of play. "Coach fussed at us at halftime and told us to turn it up," LeMelle said. "We had more intensity in the second half."
LeMelle said his performance gives him a boost of confidence and noted that after he hit his first shot that he stayed loose and played like he was in junior college where he was a strong scorer the past two seasons.
Ronny LeMelle had his best game as a Tiger.
In the second half, Auburn scored from everywhere, but in the first half much of the damage was done from the perimeter. LeMelle said that Ellis warned the Tigers that Kennedy might dare the Tigers to beat Montana from the perimeter. "Coach told us to keep our hands cocked ready to shoot the ball. He told us that we would get open shots from outside."
Both teams struggled with their shooting in the first half. Auburn hit just 34.5 percent of its shots in the first 20 minutes while the visitors hit 34.6 percent.
Auburn led 31-26 at intermission thanks to hitting 6-14 three-pointers while the Grizzlies hit four of nine. Surprisingly, Montana was up 22-16 in rebounds at intermission. LeMelle led the Tigers in the first half with nine points as he hit all three of his three-point shots.
Ian Young added 15 points for the Tigers playing both point guard and two-guard. He had four assists and just one turnover in 33 minutes on the court. He is likely to stay at the point for a while with the news on Wednesday that the foot injury suffered by Lewis Monroe will need two more weeks in a cast. Monroe is not projected to be ready for game action until January.
The Tigers also played another guard short on Wednesday night with Troy Gaines suspended for one game due to academic reasons, Ellis said.
Young got plenty of minutes vs. the Grizzlies and made the most of his playing time. He said that the scouting report was on target for game seven. "They packed it down inside and that allowed us to shoot the threes," he said. He noted that Montana did a good job on defense in the first half keeping the Tigers from passing the ball outside quickly for open jumpers, but that changed as the game progressed.
Pro boxer Roy Jones Jr. came to watch the game to see his friend Steve Horne, a 6-6 forward for Montana from Pensacola, Fla.
Kennedy said he told his team that the only chance they had to beat the SEC team was to attack them like a pack of wild dogs. However, he noted that Auburn's superior athletes eventually wore down his Grizzlies. "They are a very, very difficult team to play," Kennedy said. "I thought in the first half we did a good job. We were pleased with the score going in at halftime. A lot of credit to them--I am sure they are going to be one of the better teams in the Southeastern Conference."
Auburn took control of the game early in the second half. The Tigers stretched the lead to double figures at 45-35 on a pair of free throws by Robinson at the 13:30 mark. The lead moved to 14 at 11:11 on a jumper by LeMelle. A three-pointer by Young stretched the lead to 18 with 6:50 left.
Nathan Watson scored nine for the Tigers. Killingsworth and Robinson each scored eight points.
Auburn had 20 turnovers, two less than the visitors. Auburn shot 42.6 percent for the game and held Montana to 38.3 percent.
The Tigers had an off night at the foul line, making just 11-20 while Montana hit 10-14. Guard Kevin Criswell led Montana with 13 points, but hit just 3-10 shots.
The Tigers are off for 10 days for final exams and will hit the court again on Dec. 20th in Las Vegas vs. UNLV.