Battling on the low post against 6-7 Andre Patterson and 6-10 Major Wingate as well as guarding one of the league's more versatile scorers, 6-5 Scooter McFadgon, Watson played a key role defensively in Coach Jeff Lebo's first SEC win.
"He's been playing great," Lebo said of senior leader. "What's helped Nathan a little bit is that we've moved him down and he's playing a little bit more four (power forward). We've moved him down to the post and he's a very good post defensive player. He battles, he's strong, he's got a feel in there and he's effective."
Patterson and Wingate combined to make only five shots in 58 minutes of action. McFadgon was held to 5-19 shooting from the floor. "McFadgon has been playing very well for them," Lebo says. "Nathan Watson and Quinnel Brown did a terrific job on him and he never really was a factor on the offensive end."
Watson was clutch for the Tigers with several key defensive plays late in the game. Auburn was clinging to a two-point lead with just under two minutes remaining before he stretched the lead to four on a steal and lay-up.
Watson scores after a steal to gibe the Tigers a 55-51 lead with 1:41 remaining.
"I saw (Wingate's) eyes," Watson says of his steal. "I think he was being pressured and he was trying to get rid of it real fast. I saw where he was looking and I just tried to anticipate where he's throwing."
With the lead stretched to 55-51, he came up with another big defensive play on Tennessee's next possession. Wingate, who is seven inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than the Auburn guard, went up for a lay-up only to have it swatted away by Watson.
Thanks to a pair of made free throws by Ian Young and Watson with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Tigers were able to hold on and get their first SEC victory.
"It feels good," Watson says. "Coach tells us if we keep working hard every day and come out and play hard in practice, everything is going to look the other way for us. That's what happened. Everybody was overwhelmed by it and excited about it. It gave everybody a lot more confidence to finish out the season strong."
Watson, a natural shooting guard, also led the Tigers in scoring against the Volunteers. Auburn guards Ian Young and Toney Douglas and forward Quinnel Brown combined for only 27 points, 20 below their season average. That meant that Watson needed to step up, and he did with 15 points--most of which were in clutch situations.
Lack of depth has been just as big of a problem as lack of height for Lebo in his first year at Auburn, and only six Tigers played in the second half against Tennessee. Young played the full 40 minutes against the Volunteers and Watson played 38. Lebo says it helps having players like Young and Watson who can go the distance.
"He's been terrific and his energy level is good," Lebo says of Watson "He's in terrific shape. He is in big-time shape. He comes to practice every day and works hard and never gets fatigued and tired. Thinking back, I can't imagine any guy that I've had that is in any better shape than Nate Watson is right now."
Watson is averaging 36.5 minutes through the first six games in conference play. He has also stepped up his scoring with 15, 13 and 15 points in the last three games and is second on the team at rebounding with six per contest.