Niagara Falls to Frantic Auburn Comeback

Auburn was in trouble down the stretch, but senior DeWayne Reed came to the rescue as the Tigers won a thriller to open the 2009-2010 basketball season.

Auburn, Ala.--Trailing by seven points with 90 seconds left and out of sync offensively, the Auburn Tigers looked like they were going down on opening night until senior point guard DeWayne Reed did something about it.

Led by three big plays from the senior, the Tigers rallied for a 69-65 men's basketball victory over Niagara on Friday night in the season opener for both teams.

Reed started the comeback on a fastbreak layup and he was fouled on the play. He converted the free throw to cut the lead to 65-61 with 1:29 to play.

Then with 52 seconds to play after he made a steal, Reed went coast to coast and dunked to narrow the Niagara lead to 65-63.

The Tigers then made a defensive stand and Reed raced down court in transition and was pushed by Austin Cooley as he began to shoot a layup. The basket counted and the senior calmly stepped to the foul line with 12 seconds left and nailed the free throw to put the Tigers on top 66-65.

Then it was time for another senior to step into the spotlight. Lucas Hargrove, who Jeff Lebo said had a "horrendous" night, made up for earlier transgressions by blocking Rob Garrison's shot in front of the basket. Hargrove was fouled with 2.8 seconds remaining and missed his free throw and then made the second.

Lucas Hargrove drives to the basket. He was hit on the play, but no foul was called.

With Brendon Knox bothering the in-bounds pass, Niagara's long pass was intercepted by Hargrove, who was fouled with 0.8 left. This time he made both free throws and the Tigers finished their great escape with a four-point victory.

Reed was the game's leading scorer with 24 points. Frankie Sullivan was the only other Tiger in double figures with 10 points.

"I am proud of DeWayne," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "He made big plays coming down the stretch. That is what you expect out of your seniors."

Anthony Nelson led Niagara with 17 points while Bilal Benn and Demetrius Williamson scored 16 apiece.

"It was a great win for our team," Lebo said. "Niagara, as you can see, is very worthy of the hype they have. They were 49 in the RPI last year, have four starters back and were starting five seniors."

Niagara coach Joe Mihalich was stunned after Auburn's rapid-fire comeback. "We had them beat,"?he said. "A couple of plays down the stretch didn't go our way."

Lebo said the Purple Eagles caused matchup problems. "They played very small, they are very quick and they can shoot from a lot of different spots."

Lebo's team, which struggled from the foul line in the exhibition game, was deadly from there on Friday night making 25-30.

The coach said he was disappointed that his team didn't consistently score inside with its height advantage. He said that he went with "funky" lineups in the game to try to match up with Niagara. "We're used to playing small at four positions, not five positions, with this year's team."

Reed said, "I wanted to step up and carry our team. We didn't have Tay Waller (quad injury) so I?had to pick up his slack. He is a big part of our team."

Auburn hit just 35.1 percent from the field to 36.9 for the visitors. Auburn was out-rebounded 41-39 and had 16 turnovers, one less than Niagara.

Auburn struggled on its treys making just 4-22 while Niagara hit 8-28.

The game was tied at 33-33 at halftime. Reed led the Tigers in the first half with 10 points, but the senior hit just 4-12 field goals.

The Tigers didn't shoot well as a team either in the first half making just 32.3 percent of their field goals. The Purple Eagles made 36.1 percent of their field goals and out-rebounded the Tigers 24-21 in the first half. Benn had a dozen points at the break for Niagara.

The Tigers played 10 players in the first half including freshman Earnest Ross who started for senior Tay Waller who did not play due to a bruised quad.

The Tigers got eight points from Malone and Sullivan was the leading rebounder for the Tigers with seven.

Lebo said he isn't sure when Waller will be cleared to play. Next up is a Monday night road game at Missouri State.

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