Auburn's Kareem Canty runs through New Mexico in Hawaii
By Charles Goldberg
Coach Bruce Pearl said he told his players before the game that a win over New Mexico could carry the Auburn basketball team a long way this season.
The Tigers must have listened.
Kareem Canty hit five long 3-pointers and scored 27 points to lead Auburn to an 83-78 victory Tuesday in a wild game of momentum swings in the opener of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. It was a bounce-back performance for the Tigers, who began this long road trip with a loss at Xavier last Saturday.
"It was a gut-check time," Pearl said on the Auburn post-game radio show. "I said our backs were against the wall. We talked about it: If we're going to be a post-season team, we've got to win this game against a perennial power in the Mountain West Conference.
"That's a very significant win for our conference and our program."
Auburn improved to 6-3 and will play Harvard, an 85-82 overtime winner over BYU in Tuesday's second game, at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Auburn time, on ESPNU. New Mexico fell to 7-4.
T.J. Dunans, who scored 20, said he and his teammates listened to Pearl's call for a rebound performance Tuesday.
"He talked about it so much we had no choice but to come out with energy," Dunans said.
Pearl complimented Dunans' athleticism as he shared the point guard position, taking the spot after Shamsid-Deen suffered another shoulder injury against Xavier. Pearl also complimented Cinmeon Bowers, who had another double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"Cim coming off the bench gave us a real sparkplug. We got great contributions throughout," Pearl said.
But, with the game on the line, and when scoring was needed, it was Canty who stepped up again. His final 3-pointer, with 29 seconds left, turned a one-point lead into a four-point advantage.
"We all know now... be in the game and give Canty a look late in the game, and we've got a chance," Pearl said.
Canty's late 3-pointer helped, and a dunk by Bowers 13 seconds later provided a nice cushion as the clock wound down.
The game was marked by huge momentum swings. Auburn finally wore down the Lobos.
"When we play like we're on fire, we have a chance to be pretty good. When we don't, our system is not as effective," Pearl said. "They need to see it. I can tell them all I want, but if they don't see it first hand or experience, then it really doesn't hold water."
Auburn led by five at the half, but, in seemingly a blink of an eye, the Lobos took a 53-47 in quick order in the second half.
Eight Tigers scored. New Mexico relied heavily on Elijah Brown and Neal Cullen, who combined for 54 points.
Canty rallied Auburn, hitting a 3-pointer for a 58-55 lead. But that was only a footnote to more big shots by both teams coming down the stretch.
Auburn relied on balanced scoring. Not New Mexico. Brown and Cullen combined for all 27 of the Lobos' points through the first 16½ minutes. They had 34 of New Mexico's 36 points at the half.
But Auburn had more and took a 41-36 lead into the locker room with Dunans' nine points leading eight Tigers in scoring.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine