Poor foul shooting by the home club (20-32) and 21 turnovers kept the defending Southland Conference champions in the game after Auburn looked like it would run away with an easy win in the first half.
Price said he was concerned that Auburn's defense, which limited his team to 32.4 percent first half shooting, was going to dominate the game. "Auburn is very good defensively," he said.
Auburn coach Cliff Ellis agreed that the defensive effort was solid from his club and had special praise for freshman Brandon Robinson, who stood out in his first collegiate start. He hit 6-7 field goals and two of three treys on his way to a team-high 16 points. He also contributed six rebounds, four blocks and a steal.
Ellis said he wasn't that displeased with the effort. "I think all of our young guys are making strides," he said. "I think Brandon has made enormous strides. He is playing so hard and is learning along the way."
Auburn got 14 points from Adam Harrington and 11 off the bench from McGadney, a senior trying to bounce back from knee surgery.
Brandon Robinson dunks over Ben Perkins.
Marquis Daniels, who struggled as a starter at the point with an ankle injury suffered at Rutgers, turned the ball over seven times but did contribute nine points and nine rebounds. However, the offense was not smooth most of the night.
Ellis admitted the Tigers are struggling at the point with Jamison Brewer leaving the team for the pros and Lincoln Glass not academically eligible. "We are playing with that off guard--no matter how you cut it, that is what we are doing," Ellis said.
Dwayne Mitchell, a two-guard trying to make the conversion to the point, did not start and played 18 minutes. He had four points, two assists and three turnovers. "With every game, hopefully, he will get a little bette," Ellis said of the' point guard play. "The bottom line is we were put in a tough situation and we are trying to make the best of it. I think when we get Lincoln back, it will help." <
Sophomore forward Abdou Diame did not get off the bench in the game in which the Tigers were outrebounded 42-39. "Right now, the game is so physical we felt like we needed a rebounder," Ellis said when asked why Diame did not see action.
The Tigers made a pair of changes to the starting lineup with Robinson in for fellow freshman Marco Killingsworth and Harrington in for Mitchell. With that lineup, Daniels opened at point guard.
The Tigers never trailed in the contest and took the lead for good on a three-pointer by Harrington at the 14:34 mark to make the score 9-6.
Auburn opened a double figures margin midway through the first half with a 13-2 run. The lead reached double figures at the 9:11 mark at 23-13 on a pair of free throws by McGadney. Harrington stretched the lead to 13 on a long-range triple and the margin reached 15 on a four-point play by Brandon Robinson who was fouled while making a jump shot past the top of the circle.
The Tigers then hit a swoon both offensively and defensively. That allowed the Cowboys to trim Auburn's lead to 37-32 before the Tigers scored the final six points of the half to take a 43-32 lead into the dressing room at the break. The Tigers hit 52.2 percent of their shots in the opening half while limiting the Cowboys to 32.4 percent shooting. Fourteen first half Tiger turnovers prevented the lead from being even larger.
McNeese made another run in the second half, cutting the gap to 56-50 eight minutes into the period on a fast break layup by Jason Coleman. A Robinson 15-footer stretched the lead back to double figures at 64-54 with 8:30 to play, but the Cowboys cut the margin back to six with two quick buckets causing the Tigers to take a timeout at the 7:50 mark.
With Auburn going cold from the field, the visitors cut the gap to 72-70 on a tip-in by seven-foot-one center Raynell Brewer with 3:40 left. AU extended the margin to 75-70 on a pair of free throws by Daniels at the 2:47 mark. A pair of free throws by Fred Gentry cut the gap to three with 1:43 left, but 35 seconds later McGadney's three-pointer was the decisive blow.
"Obviously, they have better athletes than we do," said Price, who said he was proud of his team's performance, particularly in the second half.
Price said that despite being on a coaching staff at Auburn that was fired, he still has fond memories of AU. "Auburn will always be special to me," he said. "I have a lot of good friends here who have always supported me."
The Tigers return to action on Friday night with a 7 p.m. tip at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum vs. Florida International.