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Antoine Mason's return gives Auburn basketball a lift
Dec. 16, 2014

Antoine Mason is ready for action in Auburn Arena

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  Antoine Mason earned the accolades when it started the season as the nation's leading returning scorer.

But Sunday, in Auburn's last game, it felt different.

"I'm not going to lie," he said, "I was nervous at first."

Mason was returning from an ankle injury that prevented from playing in six straight game covering every game except opening night, but settled in with 14 points in a 72-61 loss at Clemson. Mason and coach Bruce Pearl will be looking for more when the Tigers play host to Winthrop at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Auburn Arena in the first of five straight home games.

The pairing of wingmen Mason and KT Harrell brought promise to the start of the season. But Mason went down in the opener, and the Tigers had trouble finding a consistent scorer to go with Harrell. 

Cinmeon Bowers showed he could help, breaking out of a mini-slump to score 17 points and grab 14 rebounds at Clemson for his fifth double-double of the season. Seven-foot-2 Trayvon Reed played in his first game after only a day of practice. He's rounding into the system. Alex Thompson, who was on the team last year, has returned and is expected to play against Winthrop.

Anybody who can score will help, and Mason, a transfer, demonstrated in his career at Niagara that he can be a consistent scorer.

"When you are coming off an injury, you are concerned about it, but as the game went on, I got into a rhythm," he said. "It was amazing waking up and feeling almost normal."

Mason estimated his game is at "about 80 percent" while recovering from the ankle injury.

"I had to shake off the rust, I made a lot of mistakes, but it felt good to be back on the court."

"Offensively," Pearl said, "it was nice having him on the other side of the floor from KT, because you have to guard him because he can knock down the 3- ball and he is explosive going to the basket. One of the biggest weaknesses we have had without him is finding where to get 2-point baskets. We can get them from Cinmeon, I can get some from KT, but you go beyond that and finding 2-point baskets is difficult. 

"He is a guy that can attack the rim and post up and do some things for us. I was pleased at what I saw from him on Sunday for his first day back."

How much did Auburn miss Mason? The team's 61 points at Clemson were the third highest total of the season. Three of the previous four games Auburn had scored 35, 44 and 54 points. Pearl said the offense has struggled because "we have a lack of understanding of what it is we are supposed to do out there, and in our continuity."

Pearl said Mason can help that.

"He is better offensively than he is defensively, so it is great to have him back and I am glad he got through the injury," Pearl said. "The good thing is he did not experience any pain after the game.

"One of the things about this schedule is making sure the kids stay confident in what they are doing. You don’t give them much breathing room when you put this schedule together."

Auburn played only three of its first eight games in Auburn Arena. Now, it's five consecutive home games before starting SEC play at Vanderbilt.

"The timing of many of our games have been interesting and somewhat difficult," Pearl said. "This week we have Wednesday and Saturday against Xavier. It is important for us in these next five home games to start to come together, play better, put together some wins and have some confidence heading into conference play."

Mason has been around to know that.
"Winning these could really get our confidence up, especially if we defend our home court like we are supposed to," he said. "If we come out 8-5 that would be a great thing, especially for our confidence. So we just have to take care of business at home like we usually do."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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