Malcolm Canada was on target in Auburn's double-overtime win over Xavier
By Charles Goldberg
It was Bruce Pearl Bobblehead Night, but the little guy that was given away didn't nearly reflect the ups-and-downs that were about to transpire in Auburn Arena.
"There's not near enough gray hair," Pearl said after he added a few more of his own in an 89-88 double overtime win over Xavier in the biggest win of his short tenure as Auburn's head coach.
Malcolm Canada provided the winning margin with two free throws with 14 seconds left in a game that Auburn almost won in regulation, and then in the first overtime.
Gray hair? It was worth it when it was over.
"That was a great win for the program. We don't get that if the crowd isn't just incredible," Pearl said.
Auburn improved to 5-5. Xavier fell to 8-3.
Auburn fell behind by 14 and trailed 38-25 at the half. But the Tigers got going in the second half and the crowd came alive. Auburn Arena was rocking down the stretch.
"Our basketball team showed a lot of character, showed a lot of belief in themselves. I'm so proud of them," Pearl said.
"That would have been a hard one not to get. We've got some guys who have been battling."
"Obviously," said Xavier coach Chris Mack, "the culture is changing because of Coach Pearl."
Canada, who usually takes a backseat in scoring to KT Harrell, Antoine Mason and Cinmeon Bowers, scored 15. He was the first to bring the crowd into the game midway through the second half with acrobatic field goals.
He then hit the game-winner from the free throw line.
"A senior who wanted it more than anybody else out there," Pearl said. "He really didn't have a game to hang his hat on, a moment. He's got one now."
Canada said he lives for such a moment.
"That's the type stuff when you're a kid you wait your turn," he said. "I was hoping I got fouled, so I could shoot the free throws and ice the game.
"It's my best game here so far. It ranks pretty high, emotion-wise."
Harrell led Auburn with 24 points, Bowers added 17 and Mason had 12. Pearl said the Tigers also relied on K.C. Ross-Miller, who helped spark the Tigers' comeback. He scored eight. And Pearl praised Trayvon Reed, playing in only his third game, who had five blocks, five rebounds and four points.
"Everybody made plays tonight," Harrell said.
Bowers hit the go-ahead basket with eight seconds left in regulation as Auburn closed in on a win, but Remy Abell tied it with three seconds left on two free throws.
The teams traded the lead, and spent a lot of the time tied, the rest of the way.
The crowd roared in the second half as Auburn came back to cut the lead to 56-49, then roared again as the Tigers stayed close, at 58-53 with 8:10 remaining on a Cinmeon Bowers dunk, and continued to cheer as Auburn played it close, down 61-57, 62-59 and 64-63 with 3:01 left.
Harrell's 3-point gave Auburn its first lead, and K.C. Ross-Miller's basket made it 68-65 with 1:12 left, then he made it 70-65 on a steal and basket. But the game went to overtime, and then a second overtime.
"If we lost the game, the goal still would have been alive, but the math would have gotten harder," Pearl said. "This is one we needed."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine