Hoops Doubleheader At BEMC

Auburn, Ala.--It has taken a little more than a month of the season, but Coach <b>Cliff Ellis</b> is starting to see signs that his young Auburn basketball team is coming together.

The Tigers (6-3) have won two straight, including a 73-58 victory over South Alabama Tuesday night, and they will finish their pre-Christmas stretch with UNC-Asheville on Thursday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in the second half of a doubleheader.

Defense has been the biggest factor in the last two wins. The Tigers have held USA and Marshall to a combined field goal percentage of 37.5 and have forced 50 turnovers.

"We haven't really done anything different than we've ever done," Ellis says. "I think guys started feeling more comfortable in their roles. I think the depth on our team enables us to be able to go with a flourish...and allows fresh people to come in. I think depth creates that."

On Thursday, Auburn will take on a UNC-Asheville team that is just 1-9 with its lone win coming in a 72-66 victory against Western Carolina on Dec. 1. The Bulldogs come in shooting 42.8 percent from the field and are averaging 19 turnovers a game.

"North Carolina-Asheville played Michigan State a very good basketball game (Monday, Dec. 17)," Ellis said. "They have seven players returning from last year's team so they have some experience. And they have added some players to the roster. They are going to be a team that we have to execute (against). They remind me a lot of South Alabama in many ways."

Six-foot-two guard Andre Smith is the Bulldogs' leading scorer averaging 13.3 points per contest. He along with reserve Ben McGonagil, who averages 10.9 points, are the only players averaging double figures.

UNC-Asheville features a three-guard, two-forward lineup. Guard Colin Shaw is the tallest player in the starting lineup at six-foot-six. He leads the team in rebounding with a 4.8 average. Center Jon Higginbotham, a 6-10 true freshman from Auburn High School, is currently redshirting at UNCA.

"Our team needs to continue to focus on itself as it does the opponents. I like a lot of things that I saw (vs. South Alabama)," Ellis said. "I think, overall, the last couple of weeks we have played our best basketball."

Ellis added that he has been pleased with the transition of Marquis Daniels to the point guard spot, but has been equally as pleased with his defense. Daniels is the team leader in steals with 22 and the Tigers have recorded 101 steals as team for the season.

The Auburn-UNCA contest will begin approximately 30 minutes following the conclusion of the women's game with Troy State that is set to tipoff at 5 p.m. at the coliseum. Auburn is 10-0 and ranked 22nd nationally. Troy State, which is 1-27 all-time vs. the Tigers, is 3-4 this season.

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