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Auburn 66, Clemson 64: Good Tigers start fast, rally late

Auburn had some nice offensive success against a stout defensive team.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

In a back-and-forth contest that featured several ties and lead changes, Auburn rallied late and held on for a 66-64 win over Clemson Thursday night at Auburn Arena. The Good Tigers started hot, went cold to start the second half and finally overcame Cousin Clem in the final five minutes.

Auburn (5-3) shot 57.7 percent in the first half but went into the locker room tied at 34-34 despite holding an early 11-point lead. But after going scoreless for the first 6-plus minutes of the second half, Tony Barbee's team allowed Clemson to take a nine-point lead. After that, the Good Tigers slowly got back into the game, retaking a 62-60 lead on a KT Harrell layup with 1:13 remaining. Down 65-62 with only a few seconds left, Clemson (8-3) had a chance to tie, but Auburn played solid perimeter defense and forced Their Tigers to take a quick dunk and foul. Allen Payne made one free throw to provide the final margin, and a potential game-winning full-court heave from Rod Hall clanged off the rim.

Auburn shooting guard Chris Denson led all scorers with 19 points on 9-of-16 shooting, and he provided a much-needed spark in the second half, slashing to the basket for a few key scores. Denson added four rebounds, three assists and one steal. KT Harrell shot 5-of-9 for 14 points, and he pitched in two assists and one rebound.

The good Tigers managed to win despite poor shooting from behind the arc and the free throw line. Auburn made just 4-of-17 threes for the game, including 1-of-8in the second half. Had it lost, the 10-of-19 mark from the free throw line would have left Barbee and Co. sleepless. However, even though the Good Tigers struggled at times, they scored 66 points on a defense that had been giving up only 51.7 per game.

Clemson's star forward K.J. McDaniels led his team with 18 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two blocks and a steal. Hall added 16 points, and Jordan Roper contributed 12.

Auburn next takes the court Sunday against Boston College. Tipoff from Auburn Arena is set for 1 p.m. CT, and the game will air on CSS.

Quick thoughts

  • Denson and Harrell continue to be head and shoulders the best playmakers, and as they go, so goes Auburn's offense. When they're cutting to the basket, especially in transition, the Tigers have a chance to look pretty good.
  • On the other hand, Auburn doesn't have much of an inside presence on either end of the floor. Asauhn Dixon-Tatum has length, and while he's put on some weight, he still has trouble contending with opposing centers. That's going to be trouble when SEC play rolls around.
  • Freshman Matthew Atewe might be Auburn's best post player, at least on defense. He was pretty disruptive down the stretch.
  • Auburn's actually been a good free throw-shooting team this year, hitting at a 73.3 percent clip entering the game. Hopefully, Thursday night was just an outlier.
  • After five games away from the court, forward Chris Griffin finally returned. But he was just 1-of-8 from the field and 1-of-5 from three.
  • It's been a struggle under Barbee -- this year, and in years past -- but this team has a ton of fight. The Tigers could have given up when they went cold in the second half and fell behind by nine, but they kept scrapping. On one sequence, Auburn missed four or five shots, but continued fighting for rebounds and eventually found the basket. When Clemson needed a late three to tie, Auburn had the perimeter completely covered. There's plenty of room for improvement, but at least Our Tigers are giving it their all.

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