Newcomers, Ferocious Defense Key Tiger Win

Auburn, Ala.--Newcomers <b>Derrick Bird</b> and <b>Dwayne Mitchell</b> keyed the Tigers on an 8-0 run in the second half as Auburn broke open a close game late to defeat the Global Sports All-Stars 69-58 in the first exhibition game of the season.

Bird led the Tigers with 18 points while Brandon Robinson chipped in 12 and six rebounds.

While the newcomers keyed the offensive game, they also did a fair job on the defensive end, particularly in the second half. Trailing 38-32 at the half, Auburn outscored the visitors 37-20 in the second stanza with the help of some ferocious defense both in the paint and on the perimeter.

"I liked our intensity," head coach Cliff Ellis said about Thursday night's game. "We had been two and a half weeks into practice and you are looking for chemistry, you're looking to get everybody into the game and see who meshes. And you're looking to see who is going to come out and give you that intensity. I was very pleased with our defense in the second half. We only allowed five field goals in the second half, that's the defense I like. It was very solid and sound. That is something we'll build on."

Building is just what Auburn did in the second half. After trailing for much of the game, but never by more than six points, the Tigers were able to take their first lead of the second half thanks to the play of Robinson. Down 46-44, he rattled off six straight points to give Auburn a 50-46 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the contest. The lead would see-saw back and forth until the play of Bird and Mitchell allowed the Tigers to run away with the victory.

Down 54-52 with under seven minutes remaining, the Tigers needed something or someone to give them a spark and that someone was Mitchell. After a Bird put-back tied the score, Mitchell stole a pass from Global Sports and went coast-to-coast with the ball, jamming it over the defender to bring the crowd to their feet. With an added free throw because of a foul on the play the Tigers led 57-54 and had firmly grabbed the momentum. Just seconds later Mitchell left a perfect pass for Adam Harrington, who drained a three-pointer to give the Tigers a six-point cushion. Following a free throw by Global Sports, Kyle Davis threw down a miss from Mitchell and Auburn led by seven points with 4:46 left in the game.

Kyle Davis finished the game with 10 points, six rebounds and one blocked shot.

The rest of the game was mop-up duty as Marco Killingsworth finally got involved in the scoring with back-to-back baskets in the final minutes, the second of which came on an alley-oop from Robinson that put an end to the highlight reel worthy second half. Bird finished off the scoring with a three with just under 1:00 remaining as the Tigers walked away with the 11-point win.

"I was very pleased with our younger players and how they responded," Ellis noted. "It was the first time they were in a uniform under the lights. You don't know how they'll respond to it. We have a lot of things to build on, a lot of things to work on but a lot of things to build on. I think our athleticism is certainly one we can utilize but there's still a lot of work we have to get done."

In the first half it was obvious the Tigers came out a little nervous, particularly the younger guys. One player that didn't was Bird. In his first game as an Auburn Tiger, Bird scored eight first half points and looked to be one of the players the Tigers would depend on down the stretch. Although he wasn't needed in that capacity this night, Ellis said Bird gives them a dependable player that can get it done anywhere he's asked to.

"He's just solid," Ellis said. "You're just going to look up and probably sit there and say such-and-such but then look at his numbers. He's one of those that is just solid and gets it done. He's not flashy but gets it done. He plays both ends of the floor and that's what I like."

While Bird came though offensively, Mitchell came through his first test at point guard with flying colors. Finishing the night with four points, five assists, and just two turnovers, Ellis said he earned the right to be called Auburn's point guard because of his play Thursday night.

"I feel that our team came out and played very aggressive from the beginning," Mitchell said. "Defense wins championships, that's what I always was taught. We came out, played strong, hard-nosed defense and that helped us win the game."

Harrington agreed with the sentiments of Mitchell and noted that it was simply a case of playing hard in this game. While they didn't always do the right things or make the right plays, the junior said that he's proud of the way his team competed in its first game together.

"These guys played hard, they played with intensity," he said. "In our motion there are no sets. It's not like you do this, you do this and then this happens. It's all around and you play with high energy. You screen, everybody went to the boards. Derrick had a big put-back, Brandon had them. They just played with a lot of emotion, executed and screened. The important thing is when the game wears on, if you keep hitting somebody and screening them and every time you go to the glass you're banging them, it wears on them. I think they did a great job doing that. It was really good."

Adam Harrington was only 3-7 from the field but dished out a team-high seven assists.

The first half wasn't as pretty for the Tigers as they couldn't find the range from the perimeter with any consistency and had trouble keeping the stronger Global team off the boards. After a Davis jumper gave the Tigers a 13-10 lead, Global Sports came back behind the play of Mario Bland and Marvin Rodgers. The two inside players scored seven of the next 15 Global points as they took a 25-20 lead with eight minutes left in the first half. Auburn would make a run with three-pointers by Bird and Marquis Daniels, who was bothered by the flu bug, before a jumper by Bland stretched the lead to eight with 2:34 left. Two late free throws by Rodgers would give Global a 38-32 lead at intermission.

The Tigers return to action next Friday night when they take on the EA Sports All-Stars at 7 p.m. inside Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Admission is free for the final exhibition game of the season. Auburn opens the regular season Friday night November 16 at 7 p.m when they play Highpoint at Beard-Eaves.

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