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Auburn holds off Mercer, 78-71

Auburn outlasted Mercer's late comeback to make it to 5-2 on the season.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, did Mercer come to play. Of course, Auburn did its best to remind everyone that it's Nail-Biter U in seemingly every sport these days. But what's important is that it came away with a win in the last home game for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, a one of Auburn's starters might be unavailable for a while, too.

What happened?

The game started off a bit slow, but more importantly, TJ Lang left after having his ankle rolled over. Shortly after, Tahj Shamsid-Deen made his return after his shoulder injury. Auburn just cannot stay healthy early this season. At halftime, Auburn announced Shamsid-Deen would not return. We'll find out more in the coming days, but hopefully holding him out was just precautionary.

As for the rest of the half, Mercer finally got things going and lead Auburn 27-21. But with just a few minutes left, Auburn regained the lead with a dunk from TJ Dunans, a three from Bryce Brown and a beatiful alley-oop from Kareem Canty to Dunans.

The beginnings of second halves have not gone Auburn's way this season, but somebody forgot to tell Tyler Harris, who had seven points in the first three and a half minutes. A couple of threes from Canty and Brown gave the Tigers a double digit lead.

Over the course of the rest of the half though, Mercer climbed back within range. Justin Lewis had nine points himself in the span of two and half minutes and the Tigers had only a two-point lead with 3:54 to go.

Then the nails in the coffin. Canty hit a loooong three, Dunnans blocked a shot on the other end and Canty found Cinmeon Bowers for an earth-shattering alley oop.

A few more points were scored on either side, but the result was decided. Final: Auburn 78, Mercer 71.

Did we learn anything?

A healthy roster is a hard thing to come by. In the same game where we got Shamsid-Deen back, we lost Lang. Oh, and Canty hurt his ankle and may not be 100%, though he did finish the game.

The first five minutes of the second half don't have to be so bad. The Tigers came out on fire and built the biggest lead of the night at a time in the game when they are usually struggling. So far this year, the team has had good leads in the first half only to see them evaporate before five minutes have passed in the second. It doesn't have to be that way.

Tyler Harris is good at basketball. IMHO, that is. I've mostly followed along on Twitter and blogs, and I'm sure if I was paying more attention, I would know more about him, but I usually read and hear about KAR3333M CANTY and so forth, which is fine. Tonight, Harris' play was eye opening, at least for me. Tonight was his third straight double-double. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Who's next in line?

Auburn travels to Cincinnati to take on the Xavier Musketeers on Saturday. That Xavier team is 10-0 and just beat the 8-2 Cincinnati Bearcats 65-55, so um, it's gonna be a struggle. Not only are the Musketeers really good. They will probably be looking for some measure of revenge for last year's double overtime upset at the hands of our Tigers.

Regardless of the outcome, Auburn travels to Hawaii for a tournament the week of Christmas and then comes back home for the conference opener against Bruce Pearl's old team, Tennessee.

Sure, it's a tough non-conference schedule, but just one more win will ensure Auburn enters SEC play at least .500. I'll take it.