Tigers Pluck Gamecocks

Auburn, Ala.—Leading just 47-44 with 12:49 remaining, the Auburn Tigers outscored Jacksonville State 24-2 over the next 9:43 on their way to a comfortable 75-53 win in front of a small and less than enthused crowd Sunday afternoon in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

"I saw a surge in the second half I really liked," head coach Cliff Ellis said following the game. "Our energy and enthusiasm was strong…we put forth a lot of energy and effort. We're playing a lot of people and I saw some things out of some guys that are really playing Division I basketball for the first time that I liked. I though Marco Killingsworth came in and gave us very good play, solid play. Derrick Bird has been solid both games. Dwayne Mitchell, excellent performance, 6 rebounds is kind of what we saw at our point last year."

Spurred on by a line-up that included those three players plus center Kyle Davis and newcomers Brandon Robinson and Nathan Watson for much of the 9-minute run, the Tigers were able to wear down the Gamecocks using what Gamecock coach and former Auburn assistant Mike LaPlante called "waves of players". Although the depth factor may not have been the determination between winning and losing for the Tigers this day, it definitely allowed them to cruise to a victory in a game that had every chance to be a repeat of Friday night's near disaster against High Point.

"I started picking up early in the game that they weren't going to play as many people as us," Mitchell noted. "By looking at the film, coach said ‘push the ball, make them use more players than us'. That's how it happened."

Leading by just five at 49-44 and needing something positive to happen on either end of the court, Davis came up with the plays of the game that pushed the Tigers into high gear for the first time this season. Former Auburn player Jay Heard came up with a steal on the defensive end and appeared to be on his way to an easy lay-up when out of nowhere Davis soared through the sky to pin the ball against the glass for one of his two blocks for the game. Just seconds later Davis would add another as the small crowd began to get involved in the game, urging the young Auburn lineup to play harder than they had at any point in the season.

Brandon Robinson and Derrick Bird trap a Jacksonville State ballhandler in Auburn's full court press defense.

It worked as just five minutes later Auburn led 57-46 when Mitchell sent the crowd and his own team into a frenzy with a monster dunk over three Jacksonville State defenders. Taking an outlet pass from Robinson on the defensive end, Mitchell weaved his way through traffic before taking the ball down the middle of the lane for a one-handed tomahawk jam that seemingly took the air out of the Gamecock team.

From that moment on, it was all Auburn as they would build as much as a 25-point lead when Robinson broke away for a two-handed slam with 3:30 remaining in the game. The Tigers would get baskets from little used reserves Charlton Barker and Donny Calton to close the books on the 22-point win.

Leading the way for Auburn was Daniels who had 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals in just 21 minutes. Bird added 13 points while Killingsworth was the only other Tiger in double figures with 11. Davis chipped in with 9 points and 9 rebounds while Mitchell totaled 8 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. 10 players scored for Auburn as they had 12 players see action in the game.

Heard led the way for the Gamecocks with 14 points and 4 steals despite shooting just 5-17 from the field. Former Loachapoka star Poonie Richardson added 11 points while Omar Barlett chipped in with 10. Jacksonville State shot just 33.8 percent from the field for the game and committed 23 turnovers to Auburn's 15.

The first half was eerily similar to Friday night's game for the Tigers as the overmatched Gamecocks were able to hang around and keep within striking distance thanks to the erratic shooting from both teams. Auburn jumped out early 15-6 behind two baskets each from Bird and Davis. Following a run by the Gamecocks that cut the lead to 27-21 later in the half, Auburn would push the lead back to double-figures on back-to-back baskets by Davis and Watson. The half would end with Auburn ahead 34-24 on the way to the comfortable win.

Auburn was without the services of sophomore forward Abdou Diame, who was suspended from Sunday's game because of a violation of team policy. Ellis said that Diame's sentence was for one game only and he would be suited up when the Tigers return to play Saturday night in Piscataway, N.J. as they take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Auburn returns home Tuesday Nov. 27 when they host the McNeese State Cowboys a 7 p.m.

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