Auburn's Jordon Granger has a good look against Middle Tennessee State
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Antoine Mason scored a season-high 19 points, but the nation's leading scorer from last year wanted to talk about his defense when the night was through.
Auburn beat Middle Tennessee State 64-48 in Auburn Arena on Monday night behind a pressure defense the forced 24 turnovers, had 12 steals and held the Blue Raiders to 40 percent shooting, and even less when it mattered
Mason said the Tigers got the defensive message from coach Bruce Pearl in practice.
"He challenged us, and he challenged me especially on defense," Mason said on the Auburn radio post-game show. "We don't want to be just an offensive team. We want to shut people down."
Auburn won its fourth straight game to improve to 7-5. Middle Tennessee State fell to 7-6, a victim of the Tigers' defense.
"If you look at the last nine games, we've put up pretty good defensive numbers," Pearl said.
Auburn will wrap up non-conference game against North Alabama at home Saturday before playing at Vanderbilt on Jan. 4.
Monday's game was safely in hand with three Auburn players in double-figures when the Tigers turned a good defensive game into an even bigger one.
"We wanted to play better defense and have more energy," said K.C. Ross-Miller, who had five steals.
The Tigers used a 14-3 run to take a 58-37 with 6:48 left in the second half.
Mason led Auburn in scoring. Cinmeon Bowers added 12 points and KT Harrell scored 11. But the defense was the hot topic when the game ended.
"We really, really guarded," Pearl said. "We played with effort and energy.
"We built on the foundation of our defense."
Pearl said Mason found what was lacking: "Antoine finally had a little joy in his game," Pearl said.
"It was one of his best offensive effort and his best defensive effort."
Pearl said Auburn's press set the tone.
"We spent a little bit more time with the pressure this week," he said. "We have some guys who like to press, and we have guys who press because I make them press. When I can get all the guys to like to press, then it can really be exciting."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine