By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - When Furman threatened, Auburn's women's basketball team answered by turning up the defensive heat Thursday night. And, in the end, the Paladins couldn't handle it well enough for long enough.
Auburn, up 32-28 at halftime, led by as many as 20 late in the game before cruising to a 78-64 victory in the first round of the WNIT at Auburn Arena. The Tigers (18-14) earned another home game. They will play Old Dominion (17-15), a 68-60 winner over Navy, at Auburn Arena on Monday at 6 p.m.
Fueled by their defense, the Tigers went on a 14-3 run to take a 64-44 lead with 5:04 left. After that, Tigers coach Terri Williams-Flournoy sat most of her starters down, and Furman's Kelsey Ellis hit four 3-pointers in the final five minutes. Freshman Auburn point guard Meagan Tucker made sure things didn't get scary by making 8-of-10 free throws.
"I think their pressure got in our heads a little bit," Furman coach Jackie Carson acknowledged when it was over.
The Tigers forced 17 turnovers, but head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said that didn't tell the whole story.
"I really think our press did what it usually does and just wore them down. Those shots they were getting early became quick or rushed shots."
The Tanner sisters - senior guard Tyrese and sophomore post player Tra'Cee - led the Tigers with 17 points. Freshman Khady Dieng scored 16 points off the bench, 11 in the second half. Freshman Brandy Montgomery scored 11 points, hitting three 3-pointers in the second half.
Pressure defense and the offense that came from it, Tyrese Tanner said, made the difference.
"We tired them out with our press," she said. "We tired them out on offense. When you make a turnover, you hang your head a little bit. That's what they did. We were able to convert off their turnover and make baskets.
With the game tied at 21 with 6:07 left in the first half, Dieng ignited an 11-0 run when she was fouled on a 3-point shot and made all three free throws. Forcing three consecutive turnovers with their press, the Tigers scored 11 unanswered points to take a 32-21 lead.
Furman wasn't going to go away so easily, scoring the final seven points of the first half and the first basket of the second half to cut the Auburn lead to 32-30. Montgomery hit first two 3-pointers as the Tigers ran off a 10 straight points. They were never seriously threatened again.
Tyrese Tanner moved to No. 10 on Auburn's all-time scoring list with 1,480 points, but she said that was not on her mind.
"I don't think about that much," she said. "I try to win. I just want to keep playing in postseason. For my career, I'm grateful that Coach Flo believed in me when she got here."Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: Follow @PMarshOnAU