Senior Marquis Daniels led the way with 24 points and 11 rebounds, but said following the game that this win was due to the play of the guys off the bench in the second half.
"We had great bench play from these two guys (Chris Lollar and Donny Calton) and also Rodney Tucker," Daniels said following the win. "If it wasn't for them who knows what would have happened. They came in and brought us great energy as well. They got things going for us."
Outscoring the bench from Murray State 25-14 in the game and playing a larger than normal role in a close game, Auburn's bench of Lollar, Calton and Tucker along with Troy Gaines and Nathan Watson, who saw his first action of the season, was the difference in Saturday's game. Coach Cliff Ellis couldn't give the guys enough credit following the game for bringing energy to a lethargic starting five for the Tigers early.
"That was a good ball club and a team we'll see in the NCAA Tournament," Ellis said. "I thought that they came out and set the tempo and controlled it. I thought the bench, and I told our team, I thought they deserved a lot of credit for this win. In the second half the first five minutes we set the tone and I thought that was key in both halves."
Marquis Daniels scores two of his 24 points in Saturday's game over the outstretched arms of Racer forward James Singleton.
Trailing 28-26 at intermission following their worst shooting half of the season, the Tigers appeared headed down the road to destruction in the opening minutes of the second stanza as the Racers scored the first five points coming out of the locker room to take a seven-point lead. Enter Calton, Tucker and Lollar.
Bringing energy to the floor on both ends, Auburn picked up the tempo and Daniels was the leader of the group. A Derrick Bird basket broke the drought for the Tigers at 17:38 of the second half and by the time Murray State would score again they would find themselves down by 12. Two free throws by point guard Lewis Monroe followed Bird and three baskets by Daniels with buckets from Tucker, Calton and Gaines thrown in pushed Auburn out to a 45-33 lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the game before a Mark Borders basket broke the spell.
"Our guys came out in the first half and we really didn't have that much energy so I tried to pick it up by playing better defense and getting guys talking," Daniels said. "I talked a little trash here and there and guys feed off it. That's what I try to do."
Behind the shooting of reserve guard Rick Jones, who had eight straight points at one point in the second half, the Racers hung around and trailed just 48-43 following his layup with 6:37 remaining in the game. That was as close as Murray State would come the rest of the way because of a hot shooting Auburn team from both the field and free throw line. The Tigers scored 14 of the game's final 17 points to make the final 72-53.
Coming into Saturday's game the Tigers led the nation in field goal percentage, but made just 34.5 percent of their shots in the first half. Making 15-of-22 (68.2 percent) in the second half and all 13 free throws (18-19 for the game), Auburn demolished its season average of 66.7 percent from the line and finished the game shooting 49 percent from the field.
In addition to Daniels, forward Marco Killingsworth was the only other Tiger in double-figures with 13 points. Center Kyle Davis added eight points and six blocked shots while Bird chipped in with seven points, Monroe six and Tucker four.
Center Kyle Davis picks up one of his six blocks in the game.
While he only scored two points in his 11 minutes of action, Lollar was one of the difference-makers for the Tigers on Saturday. Controlling the floor from the point by making good decisions, he had three assists and no turnovers. He said following the game that this was a big game for him after a tough week off the court.
Not enough can be said for an Auburn defense that was stifling in the second half. Holding Murray State to just 31 percent from the floor for the final 20 minutes, the defense on Chris Shumate was the cornerstone of the performance. Coming into the game as Murray State's leading scorer, averaging 19 points per game, the defense of Bird and Daniels held him scoreless on seven shots and set the tone for a terrific second half.
"It was a very emotional game for me because I had a death in the family and I was unable to attend the funeral because of the game," Lollar said. "My main focus when I go into the game is to change the tempo and that's what I thought I did.
"Coach Ellis always instills in us to be confident in ourselves and I feel that's finally coming around to me. At first I kind of had a difficult time adapting to D-I and SEC levels of play. Now I kind of feel I'm settling in."
The first half was a game of runs between the Racers and Tigers. Murray State jumped out to a quick 13-3 lead behind the play of Cuthbert Victor, who finished the game with 13 points, but Auburn would rally and score the next nine points, the last three coming from Daniels. The Racers opened the lead to as many as eight points at 28-20 before the Tigers closed strong behind Daniels. After two Killingsworth free throws he scored consecutive baskets at the close of the half to cut the lead to just two going to intermission. His inspired play in the final minutes of the first half set the stage for a strong performance in the final 20 minutes.
Auburn will take on Western Michigan Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The team will then travel to Puerto Rico for a holiday tournament. Auburn's first game on the island is slated for Dec. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Central when the Tigers play the host school Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.