Tigers Win 17th In Defensive Struggle Vs. LSU

It took a dramatic finish to keep Auburn on top in the SEC West.

Auburn, Ala.--The fact that it may have been unnecessarily dramatic didn't diminish the importance of Saturday's 56-54 basketball victory over LSU.

Auburn squandered numerous opportunities to pull away from the visitors from Baton Rouge, but made enough big plays in the final minute to pull out the victory and improve to 6-3 in the SEC and 17-5 overall.

Nathan Watson

The biggest of the plays was a rainbow three-pointer from the wing by walk-on guard Nathan Watson, who Coach Cliff Ellis inserted into the lineup with 12.7 seconds to play. That put the Tigers on top 56-54. Watson got the shot off as LSU star Ronald Dupree ran at him trying for the block after Marquis Daniels pass the ball to Watson when the senior forward was double-teamed in the lane as he drove to the basket.

LSU then had one more chance to win before the clock hit zero. However, junior center Kyle Davis blocked a three-point shot from the wing by Antonio Hudson to preserve the victory in a game that his teammates dedicated to Davis and his mother, Cradell, who died on Friday after a long fight against breast cancer. One of her final wishes was to have Kyle and his younger brother, a high school player in Blakely, Ga., continue to play the sport that she loved.

Those two plays, combined with a defensive stand in the final minute that forced a shot clock violation on the Bayou Bengals, helped keep the Tigers in front in the SEC West. Those plays helped the home team overcome earlier lapses such as missing half of its 14 free throws, including four first ends of one-and-ones.

Auburn jumped on the visitors early, running out to a 9-2 lead and stretching the margin to 22-9f to the delight of a crowd of 9,149. However, LSU's switch to a zone defense late in the first half helped change the momentum. Auburn compounded the problem by missing some easy scoring opportunities and actually saw the lead dwindle to three points before Derrick Bird hit a three to beat the buzzer for a 32-26 halftime edge.

LSU pulled even at the 12:00 mark on a thee-point shot by Darrel Mitchell, his only basket of the game, to make the score 41-41. However, Auburn quickly regained the lead on an inside basket by Marco Killingsworth and the home team stayed in front until going cold offensively down the stretch. The Tigers scored just two points in the final six minutes before Watson's game-winning basket, but managed to win.

"We haven't struggled like that in a while with free throws and it was a little bit frustrating," said Derrick Bird, who scored 14 points for the Tigers. He was second in scoring behind Daniels, who finished with 15. Ronald Dupree of LSU, who hit 8-12 field goals, was high man for the game with 17 points, but no other LSU player reached double figures.

Bird, a senior guard who made four of nine three-pointers, said the important thing was that the Tigers won on a day on which they dedicated the game to Davis and his mother. "Kyle did a great job and as his teammates we really wanted to dedicate this game to him, his mother and his family. We wanted to show him the love...we're are a family. Our team is a family. We are staying strong and praying for Kyle and his family."

Kyle Davis plays defense on Jaime Lloreda, who scored eight points and had six rebounds. Lloreda had been avraging 12.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. No. 22 for LSU is guard Xavier Whipple.

LSU fell to 13-8 overall and 2-7 in the SEC. A team that was ranked in the Top 25 with a victory over then No. 1-ranked Arizona earlier this season will now likely have to win the SEC Tournament in New Orleans to get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

Coach John Brady said he really liked his team's defense, which limited Auburn to 38.2 percent field goal shooting while his team made 47.9 percent. He wasn't happy with LSU's 18 turnovers, but noted that Auburn plays good defense.

"I was proud of our team and the effort they gave," Brady said. "We put ourselves in a position to win on the road against the team that is leading the SEC West. We did what we wanted to do at the end. We had a guy taking a 24-footer, who had not made a shot all day, and it goes in. For the most part, we defended the guys we needed to defend and we shut down their inside game."

Auburn outrebounded LSU 34-30 and had three fewer turnovers. Despite getting outshot from the field by nearly 10 percent, one shooting statistic proved to be the difference. Auburn hit 7-18 three-pointers while LSU made just 4-17.

"The effort defensively was there," Brady said. "We just don't make a timely play at the end."

Auburn's coach, Cliff Ellis, agreed with Brady that it was a hard-fought game. "Both teams played their hearts out," Ellis said. "It was just one of those games where it was a tough loss on the LSU side. I thought they played hard and played it well. I thought our defense pulled it out. I thought it was a great defensive game from our standpoint.

"I am just happy we got a win and I am just happy under the circumstances," Ellis added. "It has been a very tough week."

The Tigers are off until Saturday when they travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. Tipoff time for that game is 7:30 p.m. The entire Auburn team is expected to travel to Blakely, Ga., on Tuesday for Cradell Davis' funeral. Commenting on how Kyle Davis is coping with the loss of his mother, Ellis said, "He is very sad. At the same point in time, his mother's wish...and he's got a brother. It was his mother's wish that he play in his high school game last night and Kyle to play. He is handling it as best he can possibly can. It is not easy for anybody, but he is handling it. These are the lessons in life we have to learn to handle." Ellis said that in his last conversation with Cradell Davis she asked the coach to make sure her son gets his degree from Auburn. "I told her I promised we would work towards that when he signed," Ellis says.

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