DeWayne Reed led the Tigers with 23 points.
March 18, 2009
Reed scored 23 points and Quantez Robertson added 19 _ both career highs _ to lead the Tigers to an 87-82 victory over Lester Hudson and the Skyhawks in the opening round of the NIT on Wednesday night.
Reed made five 3-pointers for the Tigers (23-11), who hit a season-high 14 from beyond the arc in their first postseason game since 2003.
The Tigers will face Tulsa, a 68-59 winner over Northwestern, on Friday night.
Hudson, the nation's No. 2 scorer, led the Skyhawks (22-10) with 33 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Robertson's scoring outburst was more out of character.
He made 6-of-8 shots and hit two 3-pointers for only the second time this season after coming in making just 22 percent.
"On the scouting report, they told us he's a straight driver," said Hudson, who set the single-season OVC scoring record and finished two points shy of the school's career mark. "He jumped up and made some big 3s in the first half and we were like, 'Dang.' Man, they made some unbelievable shots."
The Ohio Valley Conference regular season champions were making their first Division I postseason appearance.
UT Martin trailed by 15 points midway through the second half, but made it tight at the end.
Auburn hit six of 10 free throws over the final 52 seconds to seal the win.
The Tigers had revived their NCAA tournament hopes by winning nine of 10 games, but didn't receive an invite after losing to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference semifinals.
The disappointment didn't appear to carry over into the game, when Auburn dominated early.
"They were disappointed and they put it behind them pretty quick," Lebo said. "We can cry and whine and moan and pout and all that other stuff, but it's not going to take it away."
Making the Skyhawks go away was hard, too. They pulled to within 77-72 on Hudson's long 3-pointer over Frankie Sullivan with 1:34 left.
Reed answered with a short jumper in heavy traffic. He then grabbed a loose ball away from Hudson and hit Robertson for an alley-oop to push the lead back to nine.
Hudson struck again, hitting all three free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt with 54 seconds left. Olajide Hay's putback cut the lead back to five with 39 seconds remaining but Reed and Robertson put the game away at the line.
Robertson had six rebounds, six assists and four steals for Auburn. He also had the tough task of frequently guarding Hudson.
"He made some tough shots over our hands and he made some open ones," Robertson said of Hudson. "It kind of got them going. He played a heck of a game tonight, too.
"He just got it going in the second half. Being that he's the second-leading scorer in the NCAA, its hard to keep him down."
Reuben Clayton and Benzor Simmons each had 12 points for UT Martin,
But the Tigers went to the line 35 times and made 21, compared to just 11-of-14 for UT Martin.
Auburn hit four 3-pointers during an 18-2 run to build a 19-point lead late in the first half. The Tigers contained Hudson for nearly 17 minutes Then he set up one 3-pointer with a drive and dish, hit two of his own and had a steal and dunk in a whirlwind 91-second spurt.
"We had a couple of possessions where we created some turnovers and got some quick points and got our heads back up," UT Martin coach Bret Campbell said. "When you've got No. 5 (Hudson) on the floor, you've got a chance every night."
Campbell left thinking Auburn could make the Final Four at Madison Square Garden if the hot shooting keeps up.
"If Auburn can shoot the ball that well from the arc, you guys are all going to be taking a trip to New York," he said.