Mason leads Auburn past Middle Tennessee State, 64-48
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Antoine Mason and the Auburn Tigers answered coach Bruce Pearl's challenge to step it up on defense.
Mason was pretty good on offense, too. He scored 19 points and Auburn won its fourth straight game with a 64-48 victory over Middle Tennessee State on Monday night.
The Tigers (7-5) forced a season-high 24 turnovers with an aggressive, pressing defense.
''Coach challenged us, especially me,'' Mason said. ''He always calls me out in practice. I'm a competitor and I don't like being called out. I wanted to prove him wrong. We set the tone and I felt like everybody wanted to lock their man up and help each other.''
KT Harrell scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half for Auburn and had seven rebounds. Cinmeon Bowers had 11 points.
JaQuel Richmond led the Blue Raiders (7-6) with 11 points. Jaqawn Raymond scored 10.
Jacquez Rozier, the only Middle Tennessee scorer averaging in double figures, aggravated a right ankle injury five minutes into the game and didn't return.
''I don't think we'd win the game but Jacquez Rozier is kind of the heart and soul of our team and he went down,'' Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said. ''We kind of lost our way a little bit.''
The Blue Raiders had pulled to within 10 points midway through the second half. Harrell's second straight 3-pointer and a pair of free throws sparked a 16-4 run for the Tigers, who stretched their lead to 22 points.
Auburn never trailed in the game after eking out two straight one-point victories.
''We beat a good team and beat them convincingly, so it was one of our better efforts,'' Pearl said.
Richmond, a freshman point guard, and Raymond both turned it over five times against the Tigers.
Middle Tennessee never got much of a run going without Rozier. Even with Richmond hitting three 3-pointers and Marcus Tarrance making a fourth during one four-minute stretch of the second half, the Blue Raiders couldn't get an 11-point halftime deficit into single digits.
Harrell hit a pair of 3s during the stretch to keep it from getting too close.
''Our freshman point guard (Richmond) just turned it over twice,'' Davis said. ''We just had some unforced (turnovers). Our freshman guard laid it on the floor twice and they turned it right into buckets.''
Mason is a Niagara transfer who had played in only five games after injuring his ankle in the opener. He got some props for his defense.
''Offensively, he just let it come to him and was comfortable with his 3-point shot and attacked aggressively when he had the advantage,'' Pearl said. ''But the biggest thing was he was very engaged on defense, and put forth a real effort to make plays.''
Middle Tennessee St.: The Blue Raiders had a two-game win streak snapped. They failed to reach 50 points for the third time this season.
Auburn: The Tigers made 22 of 43 shots (51.2 percent). They collected 12 steals, five by K.C. Ross-Miller.
Mason made 5 of 7 shots, 3 of 4 3-pointers and all six free throw attempts.
Auburn led just 8-7 when Rozier was helped off the court after a collision when he blocked a shot. The Tigers uncorked a 15-2 run after that.
Middle Tennessee vs. UAB, Sunday, Jan. 4
Auburn vs. North Alabama, Saturday, Jan. 3