Auburn was talking basketball at Georgia on Saturday
By Charles Goldberg
ATHENS, Ga. -- Antoine Mason was in New York at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, talking to his coach, worried about his ailing father, plotting how to get from there tohere in time to help Auburn beat Georgia.
The guard and Auburn found their way.
The short-handed Tigers scored one of their biggest road wins in years, beating Georgia 69-68 in Stegeman Coliseum thanks to a clutch 3-pointer from KT Harrell gave Auburn the lead for good with 59 seconds remaining.
Mason gave Auburn an emotional lift, and some big points at the end, after flying from New York to Atlanta on Saturday morning after leaving the bedside of his father, former NBA standout Anthony Mason, who has had complications from a heart attack.
Mason arrived at the team hotel about 30 minutes before the Tigers headed to the arena, getting a crash course on the game plan from coach Bruce Pearl. Mason hit two free throws with 23 seconds left after Harrell's clutch shot and a free throw by Malcolm Canada, and that was enough to hold off the Bulldogs. Well, after Harrell scored the decisive 69thpoint of the game on a free throw with eight seconds left. Harrell scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half, mainly by going 5-of-6 from the field. Mason had nine points and three rebounds.
Auburn improved to 12-13 overall and 4-8 in in the Southeastern Conference, and will be looking for more when it plays host to Alabama at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Georgia, which came in with a sporty 22 RPI ranking, fell to 16-8 overall and 7-5 in the league.
Mason rode in to help, and that was especially needed after guard Tajh Shamsid-Deen was declared out for the season Thursday after dislocating his shoulders multiple times. The Tigers lost forward Jordon Granger down the stretch with leg cramps. But the Tigers got nine minutes from walk-on Devin Waddell, though he was almost left at home because of a fever. And K.C. Ross-Miller stepped in with early points and finished with 17.
Mason's arrival was touch and go. He and Pearl were still working out the details past midnight Friday.
"His flight was at 7 out of LaGuardia. That tells you the hours of sleep hedidn'tget," Pearl said.
Auburn was happy to allow Mason to be at the bedside of his father. Mason has been in New York twice since the heart problems arose, flying back each time to help Auburn on game day.
Pearl saluted Mason's return.
"He's got a family at home, but he's also got an Auburn family," Pearl said. "He came here for one year to try to be part of this Auburn family. It kind of gets in your blood and stays there forever. That's what Antoine wants to do. His coming back, and everything his family is going through right now, that's going to be part of our Auburn basketball history this year. He made a very strong statement to his teammates that he wanted to be with his brothers."
Harrell said Mason's return "really motivated us. We wanted to win for him. We all respect him, and I respect him for being here. He could be with his dad right now. But he wants to be with us.
"He wants to be with his brothers. He wants to be with his team."
Pearl said he appreciated the Tigers' effort.
"It's a great win for our program," he said. "That now becomes the best road win we've had since 1999. These are all things we're trying to do to get our program credible and established.
"I think adversity reveals character, and while we might be short in some areas, I think we're a high-character club. I really do. They keep believing and keep accepting a scouting report, keep trying to find a way. I think with all the adversity we've been through reveals character. I think this team has demonstrated that."
Auburn led by eight after six minutes, thanks, in part, to Georgia shooting just 14 percent early on. The Bulldogs passed the Tigers at 25-22, but a Granger 3-pointer tied it, and, after more back and forth, Harrell hit a jump at the buzzer for a 29-28 halftime Auburn lead.
Harrell, as it turned out, was just getting started.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine