Struggling from the floor on Saturday with misses on all four of his previous shots from the field, Watson, a sophomore from Fort Payne, wasn't the player the LSU coaches or players were worried about as they prepared for the final possession with 12 seconds remaining. Senior Marquis Daniels got the ball and drew the defense in the lane and then he dished out one of his five assists on the day to Watson. Arching the ball high into the Beard-Eaves Coliseum atmosphere, when it came down it the Tigers had the victory and kept their dreams of a NCAA Tournament bid alive.
"It's a timely shot," Brady said. "We come in here and shoot 48 percent from the floor and hold them to 38 (percent) and the difference in the game is a three-point shot or two or a missed free throw, a lot of little things. We did what we needed to do from a defensive standpoint, our effort was there. They make a 24-footer and beat us with a guy running at him, shooting over Ronald Dupree. Come on."
The results of the play are huge for both teams. For Auburn the Tigers remain in first place in the SEC West with a 6-3 mark, one game ahead of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. LSU falls to 2-7 in the league. If both records are different in favor of LSU, the entire division is still up for grabs. Because of one shot LSU is now out of the SEC race completely while Auburn is in good shape to get to the all-important 20-win mark overall and needs just three wins in thelast seven regular season games to wrap up a ticket to the big dance.
"I'm not concerned about that," Brady said when asked about his team's postseason hopes. "I wish the ball would have missed and we would have won. We play Vanderbilt on Wednesday, but we don't ever worry about that. I would like to sit up here and say we can win the rest of them. We're just trying to string together some quality play.
Coach Cliff Ellis studies the action on Saturday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. On his right is assistant head coach Shannon Weaver.
"We were just unlucky on that last shot, what can you say. Good for Auburn, bad for LSU," Brady said. "I'm sure Cliff Ellis didn't say, ‘We want a guy to shoot it who is 0-5.' I'm sure he didn't say, ‘We drew up that for him.' Come on, let's get real here. They throw it to a guy that hasn't made a basket all day who makes a 24-footer with a 6-7 guy jumping in the air. Hey, it happens. It happens to us."
Luck may have had something to do with the shot falling as LSU sees it, but Ellis said the play worked exactly liked the Tigers hoped it would. While it wasn't specifically designed for Watson to get the shot, the plan was for Daniels to take the ball to the basket and if nothing was open to kick it to the outside for what would hopefully be an open shot.
"We inserted Nathan Watson into the game," Ellis said of what the Tigers did during a timeout with 12.7 seconds left. "We wanted a small lineup. It was down to one possession and we had to have it and we went pretty small. We took a post player out and we put the ball in Marquis Daniels' hands. We were going to give him a lane to drive and at the same time screen and keep a post player inside for a follow-up. We spread their post out and we were very fortunate that it worked."
Because it did, Auburn now is closer to realizing its dream of playing deep into March. Off a full week before traveling to Tuscaloosa to face the fizzling Alabama Crimson Tide next Saturday night at 7:30, the Tigers must avoid looking ahead. Daniels said that this team is keeping things in perspective and trying to do things like they have done them all season.
"We have to just focus on the things we need to do," Daniels noted. "We can't get caught up in what people are saying we need to do. We need to just stay focused and continue to try to get better. I think we're making strides forward every game and as long as we keep doing that the rest will take care of itself."