Bird Soars As Tigers Improve To 4-1

Auburn, Ala.-<b>Derrick Bird</b> broke out of a shooting slump by tripling his scoring average as the Tigers defeated Florida International 67-55 on Friday night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Auburn led from start to finish and a major reason was the all-around play of the newcomer. Bird hit 8-12 field goals, 5-9 three-pointers, 3-3 foul shots and added four steals and two rebounds and had just one turnover in 35 minutes of action.

His minutes increased due to his hot shooting and an injury to Adam Harrington, who was hurt on a hard foul early in the second half. The preliminary report is that he suffered a severe sprain, but he was taken to East Alabama Medical Center for X-Rays after the game.

The Tigers improved their record to 4-1 without any late dramatics like they had in their previous two games. Auburn jumped to a double figures lead early in the game and the Golden Panthers never made a serious run at Auburn while falling to 4-2 for the year.

Bird, a junior college transfer, was a standout in preseason practices but was hitting just 34.4 percent of his field goals. However, Coach Cliff Ellis kept the 6-4 guard in the starting lineup and predicted he would soon have a breakout game. "His performance didn't surprise me at all," the Auburn coach said.

Bird agreed with Ellis and said, "I didn't get discouraged when I wasn't shooting well. There are other things you can do like rebounding and playing defense and I made sure I did that.

"It is great to get going offensively, but the best thing is that the team won the game," Bird added. "That is what it is all about."

On a night when Ellis kept senior forward Mack McGadney on the bench all game, he went with a youth movement that featured five newcomers on the floor at times with Bird surrounded by four true freshmen. Two of those rookies, forwards Brandon Robinson and Marco Killingsworth, tied for second high scoring honors for the Tigers with 10 points apiece. Killingsworth hit 4-5 field goals and added six rebounds. Robinson added two of Auburn's eight blocked shots and got the home team off to a good start.

A long-range Robinson three-pointer followed by an old-fashioned three-pointer gave the Tigers a 6-0 start and that margin increased to 17-4 at the 12:56 mark as the Tigers chased FIU out of its man to man defense. By halftime, Auburn's lead had been trimmed to 29-21 but there never was any sense that the Tigers were in jeopardy of suffering their second loss.

Auburn had less success attacking the FIU zone, but thanks to some long-range bombs by Bird the Tigers had more than enough firepower to defeat the visitors from the Sun Belt Conference.

Bird says he saw some signs of improvement, but says the Tigers still need work, particularly on offense. "We had too many silly turnovers," the junior guard noted. "We will be a lot better team when we make improvements in that area."

Auburn turned the ball over 23 times, five more than the home team as both squads pressed full court most of the night. Auburn outrebounded FIU 34-32 and shot a solid 49 percent from the field to just 35.1 for the Golden Panthers.

Ellis was shaking his head when looking at his team's free throw numbers after the game. The Tigers made just 60 percent of their attempts, hitting 12-20 on a night when AU was a very good 7-15 from three-point range. AU held FIU to 2-13 three point shooting and the visitors were 13-18 at the free throw line.

Auburn returns to action with a 7 p.m. home game against Louisiana Tech on Tuesday night.

Box Score

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