"We played aggressive the whole game--we really did," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said. "We were aggressive the whole game, we just didn't shoot it well. That's about it. We didn't play lethargic, we played with some tenacity. I'm going to take a 15-point win shooting like that. That's really a tribute to the team to get that kind of win and shoot the ball that poorly. We're not going to shoot the ball that poorly every night, but there are going to be times when that is going to happen again and we have to be ready."
To call Auburn's shooting poor is perhaps the understatement of the season to this point. Hitting just 24 of 59 shots for the game for 40.7 percent, the Tigers couldn't seem to get things going on the offensive end until Marquis Daniels once again took over the show. Running the team from his now customary point guard position, the junior scored a team-high 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting and added five rebounds, four assists and just one turnover.
"There are going to be some nights when the shots don't fall," Daniels said. "They have to keep looking for their shots. As long as they stay aggressive they'll go. You can't let that get to you. You have to keep shooting."
Things looked eerily similar to last Saturday night for Auburn in the second half as they quickly built onto an eight-point lead with baskets by Derrick Bird and Kyle Davis to push the advantage to as much as 12. But unlike Marshall, the Jaguars would make a run. Led by Larry Thompson, South Alabama would score the next nine points and cut the lead to just three with 12:57 left when Marques Ivy hit a jumper from the right wing.
Needing an answer, the Tigers turned to their only reliable part of the game to this point in the season, defense. Causing turnovers on three of the next four possessions, Auburn would push the lead back to 11 points in a little over four minutes when Daniels hit a jumper in the lane with 8:12 remaining. From that moment on, the game see-sawed back and forth with Auburn never letting the lead below seven points again. Holding that lead at 57-50 with 2:47 left, Daniels put the dagger in the hearts of the Jaguars with a three-pointer from the top of the key to make the lead 10. Forced to foul on every possession from that point on, South Alabama could only watch as the Tigers sank the free throws to preserve the win.
In addition to Daniels' 16 points, Auburn placed three other players in double figures as Bird chipped in with 12 and Adam Harrington and Kyle Davis added 10 each. Mack McGadney had eight points while Brandon Robinson made up for an off night from the floor by pulling down 10 rebounds. Demetrice Williams led South Alabama with 15 points while Larry Thompson added 13 points.
For the second game in a row, the Tigers held their own in the rebounding department by finishing even at 40 each with the Jaguars. The difference in the game was in the turnover department where the Tigers caused 24 South Alabama mistakes while committing just 17 of their own. The Tigers also added nine blocked shots with four by Davis and three from Robinson.
The first half was anything but pretty for both teams as they shot a combined 20-57 from the floor and totaled 19 turnovers. That explains a 10-5 Auburn lead being pushed to 13-5 with a Harrington three-pointer with 9:32 left in the half. That's right. Almost 11 minutes into the game and there still had not been 20 points scored in the game. Auburn would settle in somewhat over the next few minutes and built a lead of nine points with two McGadney free throws. The Tigers would settle for an eight-point lead at the break with a Daniels' free throw that made the score 33-25.
The Tigers return to action Thursday night when they face UNC-Asheville at 7 p.m. as part of a double-header with the women's team, which plays Troy State at 5 p.m. The Tigers then take a Christmas break before returning to face Southern Miss in the final non-conference game before SEC play.