Coach Jeff Lebo called it a gut check victory for his Tigers, who struggled find the shooting range against the Colorado State 3-2 zone defense. Auburn hit just 38.2 percent from the field and made just 5-24 three-pointers. Auburn had been shooting better than 43 percent on treys, but hit just 20.8 percent vs. the Rams.
Lebo says CSU's size and reach affected his team's shooting, but when the Tigers had to have a play they came through. "Offensively, we never quite got into a flow," Lebo noted.
Senior Nathan Watson, who hit just 4-11 field goals and one of six three-pointers, hit a basket from the corner to give the Tigers the lead for good in overtime. His shot for three with 1:56 left put Auburn ahead 75-72.
The Tigers then had to preserve the win at the foul line. Freshman Toney Douglas hit nothing but net on two foul shots with 23.4 seconds left to stretch the lead to 77-74.
Then, with 9.6 seconds left, Auburn's Mr. Clutch at the foul line, senior guard Ian Young, did the same thing as the freshman and nailed two more free throws to stretch the lead to 79-74. The Rams hit a meaningless basket to beat the buzzer after Watson blocked a three-point try.
"Ian and Toney are the two guys we want handling the ball at the end of the game because they are good shooters," said Lebo, who admitted he was relieved to get away with another win.
The Tigers hit 16-20 foul shots. "I will take that every time," Lebo said.
The Auburn coach also liked the fact his Tigers had just seven turnovers in 45 minutes of basketball while forcing 21 for the visitors, who missed one of their three seven-footers who was ill, but still played two at a time and had another big man at 6-10 to cause problems for AU.
"Those guys are gigantic," Lebo said. "Their size bothered us a lot."
Douglas led the Tigers with 23 points, doing his damage on mid-range jumpers. He was just 9-22 from the field and 0-5 on threes, but he hit 5-6 free throws.
Young scored 22 points for the Tigers and dished out five assists in an ironman role. He was on the floor for 43 minutes.
Lebo substituted freely in the first half, but kept the starters in the game most of the second half and overtime. He said he was a bit concerned about fatigue, but noted when the Tigers got the game into overtime he felt good about the situation. AU played 10 men in the first half, but only seven the rest of the night.
To get into overtime the Tigers had to rally from an eight-point deficit to force a 66-66 tie at the end of regulation.
Young's three-pointer from the top of the key tied the game with 27.6 seconds and the Tigers made a defensive stop to send the game into overtime to the delight of a crowd of 4,487, who made an unusual amount of noise in support of the Tigers.
"Everybody just stuck together and down the stretch when we needed a big play everybody made one," said senior Quinnel Brown, who had the daunting task of covering players six to eight inches taller than he was with very long arms.
Lebo said that looking at Brown down in the post on defense it looked like a junior varsity player going against the big boys.
Brown admitted it was a problem, but says he tried to use his quickness to cause matchups issues for the Rams.
Quinnel Brown is eclipsed by CSU center Stuart Creason on Tuesday night in Auburn.
Colorado State was led by seven-footer Stuart Creason, who scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. He was 7-7 from the field, but was forced into five turnovers by the hard-nosed Auburn defense.
Jason Smith, another seven-footer, added 14 points for the Rams along with seven rebounds.
The visitors used their substantial height advantage early, pulling out to an 8-4 lead before the Tigers caught the Rams and pulled ahead on a three-pointer by Young from the corner. That put the Tigers up 16-13 with 13:19 remaining in the half.
Auburn built the lead to as much as eight points as Douglas scored at the 8:27 mark on a rebound to make the score 26-18.
Colorado State caught the Tigers at 28-28 and led 35-34 at intermission.
The Tigers were outshot 46.7 percent to 37.8 percent in the first half, but surprisingly held a 23-20 rebounding advantage.
The Rams continued their run after halftime, stretching the margin to 51-43 with 12:31 left in the game.
The Tigers cut the gap to 54-53 at the 10:08 mark on a pair of free throws by Douglas, but nobody scored again until the 7:47 mark when Jason Smith got a charity basket and foul shot attempt from the zebras after getting away with a walk.
With crowd urging the Tigers on, they finally caught the Rams with 2:51 to play when Douglas caught a long pass from Young following a steal and scored on a layup with 2:51 remaining.
The lead see-sawed the rest of regulation time before Young's big three to send the contest into overtime.
Auburn got 11 points from Brown and nine from Watson. Freshman Ryan Daniel, who just played in the first half, scored eight points and had four rebounds in 10 minutes of action.
For the game was outrebounded 45-41. The Rams hit 45.9 percent of their shots. They were 6-20 on threes and 14-25 at the foul line, a statistic that would come back to haunt them.
The Tigers return to action on Friday night with a road trip to Richmond, Va., to play the University of Virginia.