Dec. 5, 2014
KT Harrell leads Auburn in scoring against Coastal Carolina
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Former Auburn coach Cliff Ellis returned, won the game — and said he only wants to see good things for the Tigers and new coach Bruce Pearl moving forward.
Now that the man who coached Auburn for 10 years came back to lead Coastal Carolina to a 58-54 win in Auburn Arena.
It was Ellis' first trip to the Auburn campus since he left in 2004, and he received a standing ovation during a pregame ceremony. He needed almost all of the game to take the lead, and then some defense in the final 90 seconds to win it, beating KT Harrell's seven 3-pointers and 25 points, and Pearl, the man who convinced him to return.
Watching were the likes of some of Ellis' — and Auburn's — better former players, Marquis Daniels, Mamadou N'diaye and Daymeon Fishback.
"We're here to help this thing get back. We're going to do everything we can to help Bruce do what he's got to do to make this happen," Ellis said.
Coastal Carolina improved to 6-2. Auburn fell to 3-4, which includes a 2-point loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday and a 4-point loss to Coastal on Friday. Auburn has failed to score 60 in all four losses.
Still, Auburn led by 14 in the first half Friday.
"I thought we played very well to start the game," Pearl said. "I thought we did a lot of things really well defensively... good enough to win the basketball game."
But the offense struggled for the third time in the last four games despite hitting more 3-pointers (eleven) than 2-pointers (six). Harrell was the only Auburn player in double figures. Cinmeon Bowers, who started the season with four straight double-doubles, scored 1 point and five rebounds.
Antoine Mason, who figured to be a scorer with Harrell, missed his sixth straight game with an injured ankle. That left Harrell, who was up to the challenge, hitting seven of his eight 3-point tries.
"He knows he's got to carry us," Pearl said. "And he gets so much attention (defensively), and every night he does it."
Harrell had Auburn in front the first 37 minutes.
"What makes it a difficult loss is we had the game won," Pearl said.
"When it came to winning time, they've won more than we have. Their players have won more than our players and you can tell the stretch they made shots and they made plays. Down the stretch, we struggled.
"They returned 10 guys from an NCAA Tournament team. I don't return any."
Auburn shot tons of three-points and led by 14 with 12:34 left in the first half. But a series of turnovers, and misses, allowed Coastal Carolina to come back. The Tigers led 27-23 at the half.
The Tigers found their shooting touch again in the second half, moving to a 40-28 advantage with 13:36 remaining on Harrell's sixth 3-pointer. By then, Auburn had 10 3-pointers and five 2-pointers — and no points from the free throw line.
But Coastal wouldn't go away, taking its first lead, at 51-50, with three minutes remaining. A Jordon Granger dunk tied it up at 54-all, but Coastal Carolina had the answer. And a 41-32 rebounding margin.
Fans could remember Ellis as a two-time SEC coach of the year who took Auburn to the SEC regular-season title in 1999. He led three teams to the NCAA Tournament, including two to the Sweet 16; and took four teams to the NIT.
Auburn is off next week for finals. The Tigers return to action Dec. 14 at Clemson.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine