But there are plenty of other indexes. Tech shot 41 percent from the field, 55 percent from the charity stripe, and 11 percent from 3-point range. The Red Raiders had more than four times as many turnovers (17) as they did assists (4). Tech went almost 10 minutes in the middle of the first half without scoring a field goal. Outside of Norense Odiase and Toddrick Gotcher, no other Tech player scored more than seven points. And both teams combined for exactly six fast-break points.
The Los Angeles Lakers versus the Boston Celtics in 1985 it wasn’t!
But when the smoke cleared, the Red Raiders notched their second ultra-close win, and for the second game in a row, overcame a double-digit deficit to do so. For an extremely young team whose roster is loaded with newcomers, these are no mean accomplishments. And in addition to bolstering the team’s mental toughness, these sorts of victories will hasten the team’s maturation and buoy its confidence.
As one might expect from a game in which the teams combined for only 90 points, this contest was physical, intense and dominated by defense.
Tech freshman Norense Odiase clearly took his personal battle with talented 280-pound Tiger Cinmeon Bowers very seriously. Odiase came out with an extremely determined look in his eye and took it to Bowers—regarded by some as the premiere JUCO player in the nation last year—immediately. Odiase lowered his shoulder and plowed over Bowers to score Tech’s opening points of the night. The hoop set the tone in this personal battle as Odiase outscored Bowers 15 to four and pulled down seven rebounds to Bowers’ eight. Advantage Odiase.
But although Odiase won the battle, and the Red Raiders won the game, late in the first half it looked like Tech could be on the ropes. The Red Raiders, frostier than a Siberian witch’s extremities, fell behind the Tigers 20-10 on a T.J. Lang 3-ball with 7:31 to play. And in a game as low-scoring as this one, a 10-point deficit is huge.
It was Toddrick Gotcher who came to the rescue, however. He came off the bench and knocked down a trifecta at the 4:16 mark to get Tech off the schneide and pull the Red Raiders to within six. With 2:40 to play he hit a layup to draw Tech back to within six after Lang recorded a putback on Auburn’s previous possession. Gotcher added a free thrown with 1:44 to play, Odiase canned a short jumper a minute and eight seconds later, and Gotcher hit two more freebies at the end of the half to make the score 24-23 Auburn at the break.
Without Gotcher’s heroics, the Red Raiders probably wouldn’t have been in this one in the second stanza.
But in it Tech was as the Red Raiders forged a 36-30 lead on two Gotcher free throws with 8:34 to play. There was to be, however, no easy win on this night. Just when Tech managed a little breathing room, Auburn clawed its way back, and ultimately took the lead on a Jordon Granger 3-pointer with 3:43 remaining.
The Tigers either led or were deadlocked with the Red Raiders for 3:42 of the balance of the game. And when Tahj Shamsid-Deen hit a tough layup to give Auburn a 44-42 lead with 52 seconds to play, the specter of defeat put in an appearance on the Tech bench.
But Devaugntah Williams, who started the game, but had yet to scratch, produced enough juju to send the specter packing. He drove the lane and was fouled by K.C. Ross-Miller. Then—mirabile dictu!—Williams actually connected on not one but two free throws, knotting the contest at 44.
On Auburn’s ensuing possession, Gotcher erased Tiger points by blocking a K.T. Harrell layup attempt. Williams corralled the defensive rebound and Tubby Smith called a timeout with 9.5 seconds to play.
On the final possession of the game, Williams took the inbounds pass near midcourt, penetrated deep into the lane, and coaxed in a floater with a second remaining to send the Red Raiders to victory number five in front of 7,000 Tech partisans.
It was a brawl of a game that had Tubby Smith mopping his brow when the final buzzer sounded, and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl chasing down a ref to whisper a few sweet nothings. The folks in attendance knew just how they felt.