Knox finished the game with 11 points and six rebounds as the Tigers improve to 5-4 on the season while Virginia falls to 4-4. With eight of his points coming in the second half, he said none were bigger than his hustle play at the end to give Auburn the win.
"The play was meant for me to screen for DeWayne Reed and then I just follow him," Knox said. "I saw it come up and saw the opportunity to get a putback to help my team get the win. I felt like I let my team down with free throws. If I had hit like one or two more we wouldn't have been in that situation. I saw the opportunity and I knew I had to finish this one."
Trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, Auburn came back to eventually build an eight-point lead with just over four minutes remaining, but would have to hold on against a scrappy Virginia team. Leading 66-58 with 4:24 on the clock, the Tigers watched as the Cavaliers cut the lead down to just two before eventually taking the lead with just seven seconds remaining.
With the ball and a two-point lead with under a minute left in regulation, Auburn got a good shot to perhaps put the game away as Reed got an open look, but the ball bounced off the rim. Knox snatched the ball down, but was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one. Missing the shot, Knox gave Virginia new life and the ACC club came through with some help from Auburn.
Working the ball around the perimeter, Virginia got the rock to shooting guard Sammy Zeglinski. A 47 percent three-point shooter on the season, Zeglinski's shot was off the mark, but he was hit on the arm by Lucas Hargrove and stepped to the line with seven seconds remaining and his team down two. He calmly sank three free throws to put his team in front and set up Knox's game winner.
"It's a terrific win for our group," Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo said. "I'm happy for our kids. We had to overcome a lot of adversity in the game at different times and come back and get down and come back at the end.
"It's important for our kids," he added. "Our kids need some confidence. I watched the film against Troy and it's never as bad as you think and it's never as good as you think. We got way better shots against them than we did against Virginia. We just shot the ball a heck of a lot better tonight. That's the name of the game."
Auburn shot 47.2 percent from the floor for the game and made 10-26 from behind the arc. At the free throw line the Tigers continue to struggle, hitting just 8-17. Virginia made 43.1 percent of its field goals and hit 8-10 free throws. Zeglinski scored 18 points for the Tigers and was one of three players in double figures for the Cavaliers.
Reed led the Tigers with 18 points and also added seven assists and five rebounds while Lucas Hargrove scored 13 and led the team with nine rebounds. Frankie Sullivan added 12 points and five rebounds, but it was his defense that was the difference for the Tigers and perhaps the biggest reason Auburn came away with the win.
Sullivan works against the Virginia defense.
Virginia sophomore Sylven Landesberg scored 20 points on 8-20 shooting Monday night in 35 minutes of action, but 17 of those points came in the first half. In the final 20 minutes Sullivan and the Auburn defense held him to just three points and no field goals. Lebo said that had as much to do with the Tigers winning as anything.
"I thought Frankie did a great job," Lebo said. "We played small on Landesberg a lot. In the second half Frankie was on him the majority of the time and did a great job. He was the difference in the second half defensively for us.
"He (Landesberg) is excellent without the ball," he added. "He's constant motion out there. He is crafty. He hesitates with it. He's got size when he's in there. He gets to the foul line a ton. He's a hard guy to have to defend."
The first half was a story of perseverance for the Tigers as Landesberg came out gunning for the Cavaliers with 17 first half points on 8-13 shooting. Virginia built its lead to as many as 11 in the first half with just over eight minutes left when Jeff Jones buried a three-pointer. It was his second in just over three minutes of action as the Cavaliers pulled in front 25-14.
Auburn would battle back despite a horrendous half shooting free throws as Virginia got in some early foul trouble. With the lead down to just six following a Hargrove basket, Landesberg went to work as he scored four baskets in just over three minutes to push the lead back to double figures. That's when Auburn would close with a flurry to have the momentum heading into the second half.
Trailing 34-24 following a Knox free throw with just 2:08 remaining, Auburn got another single free throw from Reed to cut the lead down to nine. Three consecutive points by Tay Waller on back-to-back trips made it 34-29. The Tigers then got stingy on defense as a trap forced a Zeglinski turnover with just 14 seconds left. Seemingly stuck on offense in the final possession, Sullivan hit a fade away from downtown for three to make it 34-32 Virginia at the break and set the tone for a strong second half by Auburn to earn the victory.
Coming out of the break Auburn picked up where it left off. Following a Zeglinski three-pointer put Virginia up five, the Tigers reeled off 10 consecutive points over the next two minutes to push the lead to five in their favor. Hargrove and Reed both had two baskets in the run along with a Sullivan three-pointer.
From that point forward the lead would never be more than three for either team until a Knox putback dunk on a Hargrove miss put Auburn up 63-58 with 5:18 remaining. A Waller three just moments later extended the Tigers' lead to eight, but Virginia would make a game of it down the stretch before Knox saved the day.
Auburn returns to action Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. when the Tigers take on Florida State in Tallahassee.