"They just out-hustled us," said the senior forward, who played hard himself from start to finish. Daniels hit 9-11 field goals and scored 18 points in 38 minutes of action. "They got the loose balls and made us pay for it."
Auburn wasted the good shooting performance by coming up short in several areas. The Tigers were out-rebounded 28-21 with the Hilltoppers owning 15-7 edge in offensive rebounds, many which were put back for baskets. The Tigers also turned the ball over 18 times, 11 more than WKU.
Last, but not least, the Tigers were outplayed on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively. WKU hit 11-30 three-pointers and Auburn managed to make just 5-13. A switch to a triangle and two defense in the later stages of the second half changed the momentum as Auburn's guards didn't do a good job of handling the trapping pressure put on by the Hilltoppers. A double-digit Auburn lead evaporated quickly and at the break the Tigers were down by a point.
"I think we had control of it early," Coach Cliff Ellis said. "When Marco (Killingsworth) and Kyle (Davis) got in foul trouble early (late in the first half) they went to a four-perimeter attack and that got them back in the game."
Ellis was not happy with his team's play in many areas and was particularly displeased with the rebounding. "We just got whipped on the boards," said the Auburn coach, who accurately noted, "We didn't stay on our feet."
Time after time, Auburn defenders tried to block shots both inside and on the perimeter. WKU's players waited for the defenders to get off balance and made the shot or the extra pass. Auburn had four blocks to one for WKU, but paid the price too many times on the missed block attempts.
Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton agreed with Ellis that the change in strategy late in the first half changed the momentum. Normally a man-to-man team, WKU was so effective with the zone that the Hilltoppers stayed with it much of the second half.
Felton also said, "We're really pleased with the result of the game and to see we improved a little bit from the way we've been playing so far." WKU was blown out in the opener at No. 1 Arizona and nipped Virginia Commonwealth in overtime in the home opener.
Auburn's record slipped to 2-1 and Western Kentucky is also 2-1.
Killingsworth put together a solid game offensively with 21 points as he made 10-13 field goals. Troy Gaines was Auburn's other double figures scorer with 13 points off the bench. He did most of his damage in the first half with 10 points and struggled in the second half.
Six Western Kentucky players scored in double figures with forward David Boyden leading the Hilltoppers with 19. However, sophomore guard Patrick Sparks is the player who did the most damage. He controlled the tempo at point guard, scored 14 points, added five assists and stole the ball four times as he hit 4-7 three-pointers.
Auburn scored the game's first seven points on baskets by Killingsworth, Monroe and a three-point shot by Derrick Bird, who finished with eight points.
The Tigers stretched their lead to nine on Bird's second three-pointer, making the score 19-10. Auburn built the lead to 29-19, but the Hilltoppers used a 14-2 run to take the lead 40-39 at halftime.
At the break, Killingsworth had 11 points and Gaines came off the bench to add 10 points. Daniels had eight points. The fact that Auburn trailed despite hitting 15-19 shots (78.9 percent) was a sign of trouble ahead and that is what happened.
The Tigers regained the lead early in the second half at 45-44 on an inside basket by Daniels. A Killingsworth slam dunk put the Tigers up 47-44 at the 15:55 mark, but Western Kentucky took control after that. Sparks put the Hilltoppers ahead 51-49 on a three-pointer with 14:17 to play. With the home-away-from-home crowd of 6,589 getting into the game at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, WKU turned up the tempo and pulled away from the Tigers.
An 11-0 run by Western Kentucky put the Tigers in a deep hole at 67-53 with less than seven minutes left. Auburn couldn't make a run and the Hilltoppers coasted to an 89-70 victory.
Daniels noted that his Tigers played well at times, but said there wasn't enough consistency on Sunday. "In a game you are going to have ups and downs. You have got to handle the downs."
Western Kentucky shot the ball well, too, making 55 percent of its field goals and 12-16 foul shots. Auburn was seven of nine at the foul line.
The Tigers will continue their busy schedule this week week with a 7 p.m. home game on Monday vs. Southeastern Louisiana, a team that is 0-2 after losing 80-58 at Vanderbilt and 87-81 at home to Troy State.
The Tigers will also play at home vs. South Carolina State on Wednesday at 8 p.m. and will close the week vs. visiting Rutgers at 3 p.m. on Sunday.