In practices and the first preseason game, Auburn is showing signs of being a much better shooting team than the 2001-2002 club that struggled from the field and the free throw line.
In the first exhibition game, the Tigers defeated the Global Sports All-Stars 90-70 with four players scoring in double figures led by 19 from 6-10 junior center Kyle Davis, who has definitely improved his offensive skills in the offseason. Senior forward Marquis Daniels, who has been impressive in practice throughout the preseason, added 18 points, eight rebounds and eight steals.
Freshman Steve Leven scored 15 points as he hit three out of four three-pointers. A 6-4 guard from Australia, he has been slowed in practice by a heel injury and bone spurs and is questionable for Friday night, although he was working out at Wednesday's practice at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. "I think he is a big key to us," Coach Cliff Ellis says.
Marco Killingsworth drives to the basket at Wednesday's practice at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Killingsworth and the Tigers will play at 7 p.m. on Friday at the coliseum. Admission is free.
"The team we played I thought was an excellent team," Ellis adds. "We played a very good basketball game--probably as good of an exhibition game as we have played since I have been here." Auburn hit 56.1 percent of its field goals and committed just eight turnovers, 10 less than the opposition.
Ellis used 10 players in the first exhibition game and nine scored. Auburn held out sophomore forward Brandon Robinson, a potential starter, who the head coach says he hopes will be back in time for the regular season opener vs. Wofford. Robinson has been playing well in practice. Ellis says he is not certain if Robinson will be cleared to play for Friday night's exhibition as AU officials check out the sophomore's eligibility status. "He has not been cleared at this point," Ellis says. "I am waiting for those issues to be resolved from within. At this point his status is still on a day to day basis."
The other starters in the first exhibition game were senior guard Derrick Bird, who scored 10 points as he hit four of his five shots, plus sophomore point guard Lewis Monroe and sophomore power forward Marco Killingsworth. Monroe was smooth at the point, nailing all three of his shots while dishing out six assists with no turnovers. Killingsworth contributed eight points, five rebounds, one blocked shot and a steal.
Backup guard Troy Gaines added three points and six assists at the point. He has also been working at the two guard spot. In a Tuesday intrasquad scrimmage, he scored 24 points as he nailed seven of 14 treys while Daniels led the way with 26 points, including 14-14 at the free throw line.
Ellis has praise for seniors Daniels and Bird plus walk-on forward Donny Calton. "They have done a great job," Ellis says. "Every player has stepped up his play. The offseason has really paid dividends."
Auburn is generally picked to finish at or near the basement of the SEC West. Ellis says he has higher expectations. "I like our team," he says. "Our team is going to surprise a lot of people."