The Tigers (4-1) hope to ride into the final portion of the non-conference schedule with momentum after a win over a Big East school while Rutgers hopes to continue its current hot streak. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net South.
The Tigers face a Rutgers team that is coming into Sunday's game on a roll with consecutive wins over Temple (59-53) and Marshall (75-56). The Scarlet Knights narrowly lost at 12th-ranked North Carolina (71-67) in the second round of the Preseason NIT despite leading for much of the contest and opened the season with a 60-36 win over Columbia in Piscataway, N.J.
Coach Gary Waters' squad is led by shooting guard Jerome Coleman. The player who made two free throws with 1.7 seconds left to beat the Tigers last season is back and one of the top players in the Big East Conference this season. Averaging 19.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest, he has been hot in the last two games. Coming off a disappointing 2-18 performance in the loss to the Tar Heels, he responded with back-to-back 28-point outings against Temple and Marshall. A confident shooter, Coleman in the leader of the Scarlet Knight squad and Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said Coleman is the key to their team.
"It should be a very good basketball game," Ellis noted. "They have certainly played well early. I know that we have a test. We played them a year ago and it was a heck of a ball game. Anytime you get two conferences like the Southeastern Conference and the Big East together you have good basketball. In watching film they've gone on the road and beat Temple and they had North Carolina beat.
"They are very athletic. Jerome Coleman is an excellent guard that sticks a deep three, which he made against us last year. Against Temple he had 17 of 28 first-half points with some deep threes."
Joining Coleman in the starting lineup will be point guard Mike Sherrod (5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds), small forward Ricky Shields (11.8, 4.0), forward Herve Lamizana (9.3, 4.8) and center Kareem Wright (4.5, 3.3). A native of the Ivory Coast, Lamizana has steadily improved this season in just four games and comes into Sunday's game playing the best basketball of his life. After establishing career highs in points (20 against UNC), rebounds (10 against Temple) and blocked shots (seven against Marshall), Ellis says the Tigers will have to be sure where he is on the court at all times.
Auburn is led by senior forward Marquis Daniels. Leading the team in scoring at 19.6 points per contest while adding seven rebounds and 5.2 assists as well, the 6-6 Daniels has been the one constant for the Tigers this season on the offensive end. Improving each game on that end of the court is Marco Killingsworth. Scoring 18 points and pulling down 7.6 rebounds per contest, the sophomore brings stability inside to complement center Kyle Davis.
Coming off his first career triple-double when he scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds against South Carolina State, Davis is becoming a more confident player on the offensive end. Add in his 4.8 blocks per game on defense and you have a player that is the key to Auburn's game. If Davis can avoid the foul trouble that has plagued him this season, the Tigers should have a good chance to pull out a win against the Scarlet Knights. "Last year was a real tough one," Davis said. "We ended up losing by, I think, one. Right now we're just going in looking like, ‘Okay, we lost to them last year and we're going to try to redeem ourselves this year. Let's go out there and play hard and have fun like we've done the last few games.'"
Point guard Lewis Monroe has been solid this season running the Tiger team. He is averaging 6.4 points and nearly 3.5 assists per game. Senior guard Derrick Bird enters the contest averaging 11.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. The top player off the bench for Auburn is tranfer guard Troy Gaines. A sophomore, he's averaging 6.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per contest.
After the Sunday game vs. Rutgers, the Tigers return to action Saturday afternoon when they will face the Murray State Racers at 3 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The Tigers will then play host to Western Michigan the following Tuesday (Dec. 17) before heading to Puerto Rico for a holiday tournament.