"It's real frustrating," Bird said following the game. "To come out and play hard like we did and to come up short is disappointing. We have to just keep working."
Working is what Bird did the entire night. In addition to his offensive duties, which consisted of carrying the team for much of the night, the Ypsilanti, Mich., native also drew the defensive assignment of guarding Tech's leading scorer, Gerrod Henderson. Entering the game averaging 18.3 points per game, he finished just 1-14 from the floor with four points.
"Derrick Bird had a phenomenal game," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said. "When you look at what he did, Henderson is a guy that was talking about going out (pro)," Ellis said. "He guarded Henderson pretty much all night. His play was strong for our basketball team."
In what is becoming a trademark of this Tiger team, they struggled to rebound the ball against the strong and aggressive Bulldog front line. Out-rebounded 47-30 on the night, Auburn had problems maintaining possession for any length of time and that is something of a concern for Ellis and staff.
"The difference in this basketball game without question was rebounding," Ellis said. "Seventeen rebounds is an opportunity for 34 points and that's a lot to give up. They are experienced, strong, athletic and we have to learn from it."
Adam Harrington scored 15 for the Tigers, but struggled at the foul line.
Trailing for the entire second half after going into intermission down four, the Tigers took their first lead of the final 20 minutes with just 5:32 remaining when Daniels drained a three-pointer to make the score 54-53 Auburn. The Bulldogs would respond quickly as Marco Cole answered right back with a three of his own to put Tech back up by two. That would begin a run of 11 of the next 13 points as the lead would eventually be at eight with just 1:51 remaining on the second of two free throws by Bulldog guard Lavelle Felton.
With their backs to the wall, the Tigers would answer behind who else, Bird and Daniels. First Bird drained a three from the right wing to cut the lead to five with 1:43 left. Following a steal and missed dunk by freshman Dwayne Mitchell that proved to be very costly, the Tigers once again held the Bulldogs scoreless on the offensive end. A Brandon Robinson tip-in of a Bird miss cut the lead to 64-61 with just over one minute left setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
After a Felton free throw increased the lead to four once again, Daniels would show his worth as a penetrator by driving the lane and dropping a runner to make the score 65-63.
Playing tough, aggressive defense, the Tigers got the Bulldogs in a trap just over half court. Trying to strip the ball away, Robinson reached in a little too much and got whistled for his fifth foul, sending Henderson to the line. Struggling for the entire game, Henderson showed his stuff by calmly dropping both to put the Bulldogs up by four. Daniels would again come to the forefront by pulling up from the top of the key and draining a three-pointer with 40.9 seconds left. With the lead down to just one, the Tigers would need a defensive stand to have one last shot at the win.
Choosing to play defense and hope for a last-second shot instead of fouling and having time to do no worse than tie the score, the Tigers put on the press and tried the force the turnover. Running the shot clock down, the Bulldogs drove the lane only to be denied first by a Mitchell block and then by Kyle Davis on the last of his nine blocks for the game. Getting the ball back with under five seconds left, Daniels weaved his way through traffic before launching a shot from just inside half court that came up empty.
In addition to Bird, Adam Harrington chipped in with 15 points and Daniels added 14 and six assists. Robinson scored five points but no other Tiger had more than two as the team made more three-pointers (13) than it did from two-point land (11). Brown scored 17 points to lead Louisiana Tech while Antonio Meeking chipped in with 15. Felton and Cole each scored 13 as the Bulldogs outscored the Tigers 16-6 off the bench.
The combination of Bird and Harrington carried the Tigers in the first half as each tallied 11 points, scoring all but eight of Auburn's total for the period. Auburn jumped out to a quick 13-5 lead as Bird made the second of his seven three pointers. Louisiana Tech would score eight straight and eventually take the lead for the remainder of the first half when Michael Wilder made a three-pointer from the right wing to put Tech up 22-19. Free throws continued to haunt the Tigers though as they hit just 3-of-10 from the charity stripe and trailed by four at the break.
The Tigers return to action Saturday at 3:30 p.m.when the face seventh-ranked Virginia in the Arby's Hardwood Classic in Birmingham. Virginia enters at 4-0 while the Tigers are 4-2.