The six-foot-five freshman came off the bench in the second half and jumped-started the lethargic Auburn women's basketball team that ended up routing Troy State 69-38 on opening night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
Marita Payne shoots for two points.
"Honestly, I was a little bit embarrassed when I came out at the start and jumped on top of that girl," Payne said. "For the rest of the time I was in there, I wanted to make up for it. I was was basically focusing on getting to stay on the court."
Payne said she was "pretty happy" with her final result and so was Coach Joe Ciampi. "
Defensively, Payne closed off the middle with three quick blocked shots after an embarrassing tumble when she fell for a pump fake and landed awkwardly on the floor and was called for a foul. However, after that it was highlight after highlight for the Australian.
Although she played just 13 minutes, she tied for game high point honors with 12 points. She was second in rebounds with eight and added a pair of steals.
With Payne helping shut down the inside and the Tigers playing with more confidence defensively, the Trojans were outscored 42-15 in the second half.
Two other Tigers joined Payne in double figures in the scoring column. Guard Natasha Brackett scored 12 points, added six assists, four turnovers and two steals on a night she struggled with her shooting. She hit just 5-14 shots, but Ciampi said he expects her to normally shoot better than that.
Brackett said she believes the Tigers will have a good team this year. "This year a lot of people are underestimating us because we have had a rough couple of years here."
Le'Coe Willingham struggled with her shooting, too, making just 3-11 field goals at her new position, small forward, but she was a terror on the glass with 14 rebounds.
Auburn held Troy State to just 20 percent shooting in the second half and 29.8 percent for the game. Auburn didn't shoot very well, but was much better than the visitors. AU hit 40.4 percent from the field despite making just 3-20 treys. AU was 20-31 at the free throw line and outrebounded the Trojans 49-26.
Neither team had much success offensively in the first half. Auburn led just 16-15 at the 7:04 mark on a three-pointer by freshman guard Nitasha Brown. Troy State pulled ahead 23-17, but the lead didn't last long.
Brackett banked in a mid-range jumper from the wing to tie the game and Tia Miller drilled a 17-foot straight-on jumper to put the Tigers ahead again. Le'Coe Willingham scored inside to complete a 10-0 Auburn run to end the half with the Tigers on top 10-0.
Chaquita Alexander led the Trojans with 10 points.
Ciampi said he liked the way the Tigers turned up the defensive pressure after two indifferent performances in exhibition game losses that irritated the veteran coach. "I felt defensively we found a personality tonight," he said. "We finally found people who would take away the inside passing lanes." Ciampi also was pleased with Auburn's domination of the rebounding battle.
Poor shooting and turnovers kept the score down in the first half. Troy hit just 40.9 percent and the Tigers were even worse, making just 37 percent while hitting just 1-11 three-pointers and committing a dozen turnovers, one less than the Lady Trojans.
Auburn returns to action on Monday with a 7 p.m. home game vs. Prairie View.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Sophomore Nicole Louden, who Ciampi is moving from point guard to shooting guard, was the only player who did not see action for the Tigers. Ciampi says he offered to let her play, but says the sophomore didn't feel comfortable with her assignments as a two guard.