But in this game, numbers didn't matter. A day after his mother, Cradell Davis, died after a long battle with cancer, Davis was on the court with his teammates. He played, and he played hard, because that's what his mother wanted.
Fittingly, after Nathan Watson made the three-point shot of his career, Davis got his hand on Antonio Hudson's three-point shot as time expired and preserved Auburn' 56-54 victory over LSU. He could go to the locker room to the warm embrace of his teammates and his coaches. They'll be with him again Tuesday when family and friends gather in Blakely, Ga., to say goodbye to Cradell Davis.
As we watch college athletes with such remarkable skills and physical gifts, it is sometimes easy to forget that what they really are is college students going through the same confusing journey to adulthood that we all experience. Whatever the sport, a team really is very much a family. They work together, celebrate together, cry together and even grieve together. Davis showed great courage and determination just by being at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. No one would have blamed him or even have been surprised if he'd said it was just too much, that he just couldn't do it. That he was there made his teammates want even more to win.
On a day when LSU coach John Brady whined like a child because Watson made a big-time shot in the toughest of circumstances, Davis was a man in every sense of the word. He played through his pain and through his grief. He played as his heart overflowed with the memory of the mother he cherished and who cherished him.
It wasn't the best Auburn has played this season, not even close. The Tigers let a 13-point first-half lead get away. They were on the verge of losing a crucial game before Watson stepped forward and sent his rainbow three-pointer swishing through the basket with four seconds left. But in the end, Auburn's players did what they had to do to win. A team written off as a joke before the season started, one that was widely assumed to be on the fast track to nowhere, leads the Southeastern Conference West Division with seven games to play. Two more wins will make the Tigers a serious candidate for an NCAA Tournament bid. Three more wins will make it all but certain.
LSU continued a most forgettable season, falling to 2-7 in the SEC. Brady, in his sixth year at LSU, spent much time in the early years complaining because he inherited scholarship limitations. He no longer has scholarship limitations. He has two of the league's top players in Ronald Dupree and Torris Bright. He has four seniors in his playing rotation. He beat No. 1 Arizona in December. And he's won two of nine in the SEC. In typical Brady fashion, he scowled, complained about questions he didn't like and said Auburn won because it was lucky. He ridiculed the very thought that Auburn coach Cliff Ellis wanted Watson, who was 0-for-5 before the game-winning shot, to be involved at the end.
If he'd checked the statistics, he might have seen that Watson is shooting 42.9 percent on three-point shots. He might have noticed that Ellis took Marco Killingsworth out and put Watson in during the timeout before the pivotal play. But that would mean giving Watson credit. In Brady's world, only his own disappointment matters.
Nobody at Auburn was spending a lot of time worrying about what Brady said or didn't say. What mattered was that a young man played through the toughest of times and that a team looked in its collective heart and found a way to win again. In the game's hectic final minutes, Davis was up and exhorting the crowd to get louder. And when there was one more play to be made, one more three-point shot to be blocked, he came flying from the inside to get it done. For those of us who are Christians, it's comforting to believe that Cradell Davis smiled.