Matt Freije and Corey Smith led the scorers with 17 points each, followed by Dawid Przybyszewski with ten in just 13 minutes of play. However it was the all-around play of Scott Hundley and Jason Holwerda that sparked the team. Thus, non-conference play ended on the upbeat, with all nine "regulars" contributing substantially.
The Auburn Tigers finished non-conference play with a record of 11-2. One of the losses occurred on the road in Nashville vs. Western Kentucky (89-70), and the other was at home to Western Michigan (72-54). According to Coach Cliff Ellis, the Tigers actually played well at Western Kentucky and the Western Michigan game was by far the low point of the season to date.
Three of the victories occurred in the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Classic, which Auburn won by defeating Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (94-64), Denver (63-58), and Troy State (94-66). The other eight triumphs were at home: Wofford (81-63), Georgia State (100-71), SE Louisiana (77-47), South Carolina State (85-65), Rutgers (82-70), Murray State (72-53), Southern Mississippi (92-46), and North Texas (90-65). The Tigers come into the Vanderbilt game with a five-game winning streak.
Statistically, Auburn is first in the conference in field goal shooting and blocked shots. They are 11th in free throw shooting (64%), and 10th in turnover margin. In rebounding and most other categories, they are near the middle of the 12-team pack.
Auburn has been playing without two of their scholarship players. 6-8 sophomore forward Brandon Robinson has not been allowed to play because of eligibility questions, which could be resolved in time for the Vanderbilt game. He averaged 8.5 points per game and 5.2 rebounds last year and was expected to play a large role on the present team. 6-4 freshman guard Steve Leven, from Sydney, Australia, has been dismissed from the team. 6-4 sophomore guard Dwayne Mitchell left the team before the season began.
The leading player and a probable all-conference performer is 6-6 senior guard Marquis Daniels of Orlando, Fla. He is averaging 19.9 points per game and 7.5 rebounds, both team-leading figures. Daniels hits only 30 percent of his three-point shots and gets most of his points at mid-range and near the basket, especially on drives. He handles the ball much of the time and leads the team in assists (4.1 per game). Daniels had a 38-point game against Troy State, and 27 and 24 point performances against Georgia State and Murray State, respectively.
The point guard is 6-5 sophomore Lewis Monroe of Madison, Wis. He signed originally at Duquesne, but got his release and played for Auburn last season. He has managed to hold on to his point guard duties this season, averaging 6.1 ppg and 3.8 assists, despite the presence of 6-0 junior transfer Chris Lollar, who set career records for assists at Johnson County CC in Kansas. Monroe plays about 30 minutes per game and Lollar about ten.
The shooting guard is 6-4 senior Derrick Bird of Ypsilanti, Mich. He is scoring 11.1 ppg and is a top three-point shooter (49-22, 44.9%). He is also a solid defender, who usually guards the opposition's top scorer.
Marco Killingsorth, 6-7 sophomore from Montgomery, Ala., is a muscular 235-pounder who is averaging 16.2 ppg and seven rebounds. He is definitely the main inside scoring threat, but can occasionaly go outside and sink a three-pointer.
6-10 junior center Kyle Davis is the best shot-blocker in the SEC. So far this season he has turned aside an amazing 57 shots from the opposition, while averaging 8.7 ppg and 6.9 rebounds. It is safe to say that he is the best inside defender in the conference.
5-11 sophomore Troy Gaines, from Tucson, Ariz., plays 15-18 minutes per game and averages 4.6 points. He takes a lot of three-point shots, but his markmanship (30.4%) has not been spectacular. 6-3 sophomore has played in the last seven games after missing the first six. He has been the team's best outside shooter (52.9% accuracy on three-pointers) and is averaging 9.7 ppg and 3.6 rebounds.
Others who will see some action are 6-8 junior Rodney Tucker and 6-6 senior Donny Calton. Both are inside players and average about 3.5 ppg and two rebounds apiece.
To date, Auburn has surpassed expectations, even without the services of Brandon Robinson. In their three most recent games, the Tigers had their best efforts of the season to date. Without Robinson they have only one experienced player over 6-7, and Vanderbilt will enjoy a size advantage.
Before the season started, this was the SEC road game that seemed to offer Vanderbilt about the best chance of success. Now, it would have to be rated ahead of some others (especially the South Carolina and Tennessee games) in apparent difficulty. Auburn has to be the favorite and should win by five to ten points. However, a Vanderbilt win is certainly possible if the Commodores can put together two halves as good as their second half against College of Charleston.