Missed Opportunities Haunt Tigers

Birmingham, Ala.--Missed opportunities were the order of the day for the Auburn Tigers as they couldn't capitalize on several chances for the win down the stretch before falling to the seventh-ranked Virginia Cavaliers 77-72 Saturday at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.

Leading 67-62 with just 4:12 remaining following a Mack McGadney three-point play when the senior took the ball in the lane and finished while drawing a foul from Birmingham native Chris Williams, the Tigers appeared to be on their way to the upset win. But, the visitors from Virginia would have the final say in this classic of a basketball game.

Making 11 of their final 12 free throws, including five of six in the final minute, the Cavaliers escaped despite the outstanding effort from an Auburn team that had yet to play to their abilities on the season. Behind the play of Marquis Daniels, who scored 13 points, dished out five assists and had four steals, the Tigers gave it everything they had and had several chances to pull out the win in the final minutes of play.

Marquis Daniels continues to play solid for the Tigers in his role as point guard.

"I'm disappointed we didn't win," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said following the game. "I know we put our heart and soul into it. Our team knows how I feel. I feel good about what they did, but I don't like to lose. I feel like we should have won and I want them to understand that."

Up five following McGadney's play, Virginia began to wear away the Tigers with overpowering rebounding play by their big guys in the paint. First Williams was fouled after gaining an offensive rebound and made both free throws to cut the lead to three with just under four minutes left. The first key miss for the Tigers occurred on the next Auburn possession when Derrick Bird was left open from the right wing but couldn't drop the three-pointer that would have captured the momentum, possibly for good.

Virginia came right back and tied the game when Adam Hall drilled one from way downtown to knot the score at 67. Bird would get some measure of redemption when his three gave the Tigers the lead once again with 2:50 left.

Playing with four fouls much of the second half, freshman Brandon Robinson had been the Tigers' most consistent player, leading the team with 15 points and seven rebounds. Showing the aggressiveness and determination he was known for coming out of high school and prep school, Robinson tried to make the play of the game when he flew at Roger Mason while he was attempting a three-pointer from the right wing. Just missing the ball, Robinson just nicked Mason on the arm and that sent the All-ACC performer to the line. Calmly dropping all three with 2:33 left, the guard kept up his end of the bargain and turned the ball over to Auburn once again with the pressure squarely on their shoulders.

Both teams would answer with baskets by Daniels for Auburn and Travis Watson and the Tigers would get the ball back with just over one minute left looking for the lead.

Working the ball inside before dishing to the perimeter, Daniels did exactly what he was supposed to do as the point guard and found Adam Harrington wide open on the left wing. Getting the shot he was looking for, the junior couldn't cash in and Virginia snared the rebound and had its shot at the lead. They delivered as Jason Clark took a pass from Mason on the interior and was fouled by Harrington while trying to shoot. Showing the touch of a grizzled veteran, the freshman calmly dropped both to give Virginia the two-point lead. But Auburn would have one more chance.

Taking the ball into play with less than one minute remaining, the Tigers again got the shot they were looking for as Harrington found himself open, this time from the right wing. Once again it was not to be as the shot fell short and bounced off the front rim right into the hands of Watson. Quickly getting the ball into the hands of Mason, the Tigers were forced to foul and Mason made both to seal the win.

"Virginia was a great ball club, but we still had our system in mind," McGadney noted. "We went out there and executed and played ball...we have a goal in our mind. Coach has made up a game plan for us to get better and we're going to go out and try to execute that game plan, no matter who we are playing."

The continuing problems for Auburn again surfaced on Saturday as rebounding and free throw shooting were again the difference in winning and losing. Losing the rebounding war 42-25 and making just 11 of 20 free throws compared to 21 of 34 by Virginia, the Tigers again cost themselves dearly in a close game. In addition to Daniels and Robinson, Bird added 14 points while Harrington chipped in 10. For Virginia, Mason led the way with 18 points while Williams scored 14 with seven rebounds.

A different Auburn team than any that has shown up this season team came to play in the first half as the Tigers survived an early Cavalier run to control much of the first 20 minutes. Trailing 12-5 early following a Mason three-point basket, Auburn started to chip away at the powerful Cavaliers behind the play of Robinson and Daniels. Back-to-back threes by the pair cut the lead to just one and after a Virginia basket by Williams, Robinson drained another from the left corner to tie the game. A Bird three just seconds later gave the Tigers their first lead of the game at 17-14.

The game would bounce back-and-forth the next few minutes before the Tigers would begin to mount their strongest attack of the season to this point on both sides of the ball. Led by a tenacious defense that forced 13 Virginia turnovers in the first half, the Tigers built a lead of as many as seven points when a Harrington three-pointer made the score 27-20. Virginia would score nine of the next 11 points to tie the game and show why they're ranked seventh in the country. Both teams would play solid and aggressive basketball the rest of the way before a Williams layup at the buzzer gave the Cavaliers a 40-37 lead at intermission as a crowd of 8,178 watched.

Taking the week off for final exams, the Tigers return to action Saturday when they face Marshall in Mobile as part of a doubleheader with Georgia playing South Alabama in the preliminary game.

Box Score

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