Dec. 29, 2011
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MIAMI - Auburn senior Chantel Hilliard erupted for a career-high 22 points, leading the Tigers (8-4) to a 68-58 win over North Carolina-Charlotte (6-6) in the first round of the Florida International Sun & Fun Classic. Auburn will take on host FIU at 5 p.m. CT, Friday in the tournament championship game.
FIU (8-5) downed Albany, 69-56, in its first-round game. The last time Auburn and FIU met was the 2008 FIU Thanksgiving Tournament Championship Game with the Tigers taking the 63-52 win.
"I was proud of how hard we played and the composure we showed there at the end," said Auburn head coach Nell Fortner. "When Charlotte took the lead there with a few minutes left, we could have folded, but we didn't. That was good to see."
Hilliard led Auburn in scoring for the first time this season and just the fifth time in her career with her 22 points. She also became the third different Tiger this season to record a 20-point game, joining Camille Glymph and Blanche Alverson.
"Chantel had a great night, but we need that from her every night," said Fortner. "I am proud of her for how she stepped up tonight. She came up big for us and really sparked our offense."
Auburn shot a blazing 64.3 percent from the field in the first half, finishing the game at 55.8 percent. It was a welcomed shooting night for the Tigers as the team had not shot better than 40 percent in each of the last five games.
The Tigers used their hot hand in the first half to take a big lead, going up by 19 points, 36-17, with 4:47 to go in the first half. Charlotte did not back down, though, finishing the opening period on a 14-3 run to cut the lead to 39-31 at halftime.
Auburn was never really able to pull away from the 49ers, holding a single-digit lead for most of the second half. The Tigers never trailed until Charlotte's Gabby Tyler hit a jumper with 4:00 left in the game to give the 49ers their first lead of the game, 58-57.
It proved to be their only lead of the game as Auburn held Charlotte scoreless for the rest of the game, scoring 11 points in the final minutes, including five from the free throw line, to pull away for the 68-58 win.
Freshman Hasina Muhammad and sophomore Tyrese Tanner joined Hilliard in double figures with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Parrisha Simmons pulled down a team-high five rebounds while Morgan Jennings scored five points with her five assists.
The Tigers again used their defense to fuel their offense, scoring 25 points off 22 Charlotte turnovers. Muhammad led the Tigers with three steals while Blanche Alverson and Najat Ouardad collected two each.
Jennifer Hailey led the 49ers with 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Jai Forney added 13 points while Tyler came off the bench for 11.
With seven international players on their roster, Fortner expects a different type of game when the Tigers and Panthers face off Friday for the championship.
"FIU has a lot of international players on their team and play that style of game you see a lot overseas," said Fortner. "They drive to the basket a lot, are great outside shooters and play a very smart game. I was impressed with what I saw earlier."
Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. CT, Friday from U.S. Century Bank Arena in Miami, Fla. Live stats and tournament information are available at FIUSports.com while a live audio broadcast will be available on WMXA 96.7 FM in Auburn and online at AuburnTigers.com.