Tulsa holds off slumping Auburn 53-35
LAS VEGAS (AP) Tulsa had too much offense Monday night in its opening-round game of the MGM Grand Main Event. Auburn didn't have nearly enough.
The Golden Hurricane played effective defense, but it was spot-on shooting that lifted it to a 53-35 win over the Tigers.
Tulsa (3-1) will play in Wednesday night's title game against Oklahoma State, which defeated Oregon State in the tournament's earlier game.
Auburn (2-2) faces Oregon State in the consolation game.
''Defense has been something we've hung our hats on, but eventually I felt like we were going to be able to shoot the ball,'' Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. ''We're not a great shooting team, but we can make shots.''
The Hurricane made enough of them, shooting a season-high 47 percent and making 9 of 17 three-point attempts to pull away in the second half after leading by seven at halftime.
James Woodard and Rashad Ray, two of Tulsa's three starting guards, combined to make 9 of 15 shots. Woodard had a team-high 16 points, and Ray added 13.
Auburn shots just 31 percent and missed on 20 of 22 from three-point distance. Forward Cinmeon Bowers had 15 points and 17 rebounds, his fourth consecutive double-double.
''They executed real well,'' Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said of Tulsa. ''They were really sharp.''
Auburn couldn't stop Tulsa defensively and couldn't shoot consistently on offense. Guard KT Harrell, who scored at least 20 points in each of his team's first three games, was 1 for 7 shooting and played just 26 minutes because of foul trouble. He missed all five of his three-point attempts.
''We were sluggish,'' Pearl said. ''KT has been phenomenal and consistently outstanding. He just didn't have it tonight. When they get in foul trouble, they've got to sit on the bench, and so all of a sudden we get short-handed out there for weapons.''
Tulsa had no such problem. The Golden Hurricane set a fast pace by making 8 of its first 12 shots, then went on a 9-0 run in a three-minute stretch to take a 39-24 lead in the first half.
Woodard's three-point jumper from the corner punctuated the Tulsa spurt.
''Coach has been giving me confidence, and today it was going in,'' Woodard said.
But defense helped Tulsa maintain its lead. This season, it hasn't allowed an opponent to shoot above 41 percent in any game.
''Defense wins championships,'' Woodard said. ''That's what we did in the second half. We pretty much locked down and focused defensively, and we came out with good results.''
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane started five juniors Monday night, but it's clearly a veteran team. Four of five starters are back from last season's team that advanced to the NCAA tournament before losing in the first round to UCLA. They showed it against Auburn, playing smart defense and shooting 53 percent, then holding off a charge by Auburn midway through the second half.
Auburn: The Tigers may have been missing some offensive firepower. Guard Antoine Mason, who led the nation in scoring last season at Niagara (25.6 points a game), missed his third consecutive game because of a sprained left ankle. He scored 19 points in his debut and is attending Auburn as a graduate student after earning his degree in four years at Niagara.
Three-point shooting might not be Auburn's strength. The Tigers shot 18 percent against Colorado in their second game and were just 2 of 22 Monday night. ''We took a few bad shots,'' Pearl said. ''We didn't do a good job executing our stuff. We are still so new. Tulsa's kids have played together. I have four kids that have played together, and at times it's going to show. It showed tonight.''
Both teams had problems protecting the ball. They combined to make 43 turnovers, 20 by Tulsa. In the Tigers' first three games, their highest turnover total was 12.
Tulsa plays Oklahoma State in the championship game Wednesday night.
Auburn faces Oregon State in the consolation game.