The nation's leader in field goal shooting, the Tigers are making 56.4 percent of their shots from the floor this year after finishing last in the SEC two of the last three seasons. Their best performance of the season came against Georgia State when they made 68 percent from the floor, just short of the school record of 71 percent vs. LSU in 1961.
Leading the way in that department is sophomore forward Marco Killingsworth. The 6-7 left-hander is averaging 18.8 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per contest while making 68.1 percent of his shots. That is good enough for 14th nationally in that department. Senior Marquis Daniels is also averaging 18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and adds a team-leading 5.5 assists for good measure.
In the middle Kyle Davis is a much-improved player on the offensive end while continuing with his shot-blocking presence on defense. Averaging 9.8 points per game, he has done better work on the boards as shown by his eight rebounds per game average. His 4.7 blocks per game are good enough for fourth nationally.
Rounding out the starting five for Auburn are guards Derrick Bird and Lewis Monroe. A senior, Bird is averaging 12.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while continuing to build his reputation as a defensive stopper. In his last outing he held Rutgers' leading scorer Jerome Coleman to a 5-for-14 shooting performance. Monroe has been up-and-down this season, averaging 6.3 points and 3.2 assists per game. When he's in trouble look for junior college transfer Chris Lollar to get some major minutes off the bench. In the last game Lollar played 17 minutes and had three assists.
Sophomore Troy Gaines (left) has added a good three-point shooting touch to the Auburn attack.
Also getting some time off the bench will be guard Troy Gaines and forward Rodney Tucker. Gaines is averaging 6.7 points per game while Tucker chips in with 3.8 points and 2.2 rebounds. Ellis says their role has been very important to the development of the Auburn team to this point.
"I think his role has been huge," Ellis said of Gaines. "I like his chemistry and what he brings to the team. Not only him but right now we're using Lollar and Tucker. That rotation is huge for us."
The Tigers could have the services of sophomore guard Nathan Watson against the Racers. For a while it appeared he was headed for a redshirt season, but with the absence of true freshman guard Steve Leven, the need for depth off the bench may press Watson into action.
"I've got a decision to make," Ellis said of Watson. "Redshirt has been my thinking up until now, but I may not do that. I want to go through practice. I'm not ready to say that right now. We'll see how it goes."
The Racers, coached by former Auburn assistant Tevester Anderson, are one of the premier mid-level programs in the country. With 19 Ohio Valley Championships and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances the last 20 years, they have proven to be a solid team year in and year out and this year is no different. With victories over West Florida (87-66), SIU-Edwardsville (86-58) and Western Kentucky (83-72) this season, the same Western Kentucky team that defeated Auburn 89-70 in Nashville on Dec. 1, this team will present the Tigers a serious challenge Saturday.
They are led by 6-5 junior guard Chris Shumate, who averages 19.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and 6-5 forward Cuthbert Victor, who is scoring 13.3 points per contest. Power forward Antione Whelchel (6-5, 249) averages 12 points and six rebounds while center James Singleton (6-8, 216) is scoring 11.8 points and pulling down a team-leading 12.8 boards per game. Point guard Kevin Paschel (5-11, 193) averages just six points per game and only plays 18.5 minutes per contest. Mark Borders (6-1, 207) will also see some time at the point and is second on the team in assists behind Paschel.
"It will be another great test for out team," Ellis said of the Racers. "The thing that impresses me is they have guys that can shoot the three, but they have inside players that know how to play. They are a well-rounded team and Murray State follows that Kentucky tradition of getting up-and-down the floor with the basketball. It should be a fun game. Both teams play very similar."
After playing Murray State, Auburn returns to action Tuesday night when they face Western Michigan at 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The Tigers will leave the next day for Puerto Rico where they open a holiday tournament on the island with a game against Puerto Rico-Mayaguez at 4:30 Central on Friday. If they win they'll face the winner of the James Madison vs. Denver game the following day at the same time.