Cinmeon Bowers debuts with a double-double for Auburn
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — The Bruce Pearl Era at Auburn got off to a roaring start Friday night with an 83-73 win over Milwaukee, built on the excitement of a big second-half rally, and led by a couple of newcomers and a veteran.
Pearl won his first Auburn game since being hired last March, coaching his way through a 12-point second-half deficit in front of an announced crowd of 8,114. The fans cheered their approval.
"I thought the team showed character. Character counts in those situations," Pearl said.
"The kids saw this stuff works."
And the players rallied for their new coach.
"It was huge. We really wanted to get that 'W' for him," said guard KT Harrell.
Harrell, the SEC leading returning scorer, led Auburn with 20 points. Newcomer Antoine Mason, the nation's returning leading scorer, had 19 points. But it was Cinmeon Bowers with an impressive double-double with 18 points and 17 rebounds.
"He put up man numbers," Pearl said.
K.C Ross-Miller gave Auburn an early boost and finished with 13 points. Jordan Granger, who had never made a 3-pointer, was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc, and finished with 8.
But starter Tahj Shamsid-Deen exited in the second half with a shoulder injury on an Auburn team that already had a short bench. Pearl said Shamsid-Deen's shoulder popped out, then back in, and the question would be how quickly he could come back. Auburn lost Matthew Atewe to a leg injury in last week's exhibition win, then leaving the Tigers with nine available scholarship players.
Mason, too, hurt his ankle, but limped through the final minutes to ensure a win.
"He wanted to get his numbers," Pearl said with a smile. "He could barely move.
"He made a statement game."
Auburn trailed by 12, came back suddenly and the won a technical foul shoot off to take a 59-57 lead. A moment later, Auburn was up 61-57. The fans cheered.
"The fans are everything. They helped us get back in the game," Harrell said.
There were few such rallies last season.
"We just have a new mindset. It's a whole new year," Harrell said.Milwaukee, which appeared in the NCAA Tournament last year, toyed with a 5-for-so-point lead through the early going of the second half, built the lead to 12 before Auburn rallied.
Pearl lamented in the preseason that he had a thin bench, but that didn't stop him from establishing a fairly free-flowing rotation early, using nine players before the crowd was settled in. All nine played at least six minutes in the first half.
But Milwaukee played for the long game, too, using 10 players in the first half, seven of whom scored.
Things started with promise for Auburn. The Tigers led 7-0 three minutes into the game and was up by nine a minute later. But Milwaukee led 32-29 at the half after the Tigers lost the rebounding battle and allowed 3-pointers from some of Milwaukee's taller players. But when the game was done, Auburn had out-rebounded Milwaukee 35-32 and the 3-pointers ended in a 7-7 draw.
Auburn's next game is at Colorado, at midnight Auburn time, on Monday.