"I'm just glad to get out of here alive," Ellis noted after the nail-biter for his team. "That game could have gone either way. You have to give a lot of credit to High Point. They did a great job. They came in here well prepared. It was their first game...a lot of energy. They got a lot of loose balls."
While High Point got its share of loose balls, it would be an Auburn retrieval of a loose ball that would seal the win for the Tigers. With the game tied at 59 with less than one minute remaining in the contest, junior guard Adam Harrington drove the lane from the left wing causing High Point's defense to collapse on him. That left center Kyle Davis open on the right low post for an easy turnaround jumper that gave the Tigers a two-point lead with just 58 seconds left on the clock.
Auburn would need two defensive stops before this game was to be decided and the first came on a hustle play from junior Marquis Daniels. Freshman Joe Knight, the star of the game with 25 points, brought the ball into the front court and began looking for the shot. Using a screen at the top of the key, he let fly a jumper that was off the mark. With the ball bouncing wildly off the rim, Daniels smothered it with 31.2 seconds left and was able to call a timeout just before Knight tied him up.
Trying desperately to foul Auburn in the back court, High Point allowed the Tigers to beat the press and Derrick Bird took a questionable jump shot from the left corner with just 10 seconds remaining in the game when all that had to be done was run the remaining time off the clock for the win. High Point grabbed the rebound only to be thwarted by a stellar defensive play from freshman Marco Killingsworth, who stepped in front of a pass on the right win with just three seconds left and sent a perfect outlet down court to a wide open Bird for the game-sealing dunk.
"They came out and they played hard," Bird said. "They came out and got loose balls and we didn't so that's just something that we have to do and we learned from it. We're still getting our chemistry down together and that's something we're going to do. We're going to watch film and we're going to learn."
Ugly is the only way to describe the first half as the Tigers trailed for much of the first 20 minutes thanks to the strong play of Knight and Dustin Van Weerdhuizen. Using a controlled offensive game and strong rebounding, the Panthers took as much as an eight-point lead when Weerdhuizen drained a three-pointer from the left wing. Auburn would answer with an 8-0 run as Harrington scored four of his 10 total points in the three minute stretch to tie the game and carried a slim 27-25 lead into the locker room.
Spurred on by the strong play of Killingsworth to open the second half, the Tigers built as much as a 10-point lead on High Point when Brandon Robinson made two free throws with 12:08 left to give Auburn a 46-36 advantage. Just when it appeared the Tigers were going to run away and hide, the Panthers started a run of their own, scoring 17 of the next 21 points to take the lead at 53-50 with 7:53 left. In this game of runs, the Tigers would come back and score the next nine points as Bird would connect on five free throws during that span, something Auburn would struggle with the entire night and finished just 14-23 for the game. High Point scored the next six points setting up the tense final minute of play.
Bird led the Tigers with 13 points while Daniels chipped in with 12. Killingsworth added eight points and five rebounds while Davis had seven points, three rebounds and six blocked shots. In addition to Knight for the Panthers, Weerdhuizen added 12 points and 14 rebounds and forward Jermaine Wallace chipped in with 12 points and nine boards. No other High Point player scored more than four points.
The Tigers return to action Sunday at 2 p.m. when they face the Jacksonville State Gamecocks and former Auburn assistant coach Mike LaPlante. Returning to Beard-Eaves will also be former AU shooting guard Jay Heard, who now plays for the Gamecocks.