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December 19, 2013

Back to life

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AUBURN | After two consecutive losses on the road, the Tigers returned home Thursday to defeat Clemson, 66-64.

Senior guard Chris Denson led Auburn with 19 points. KT Harrell added 14 points to extend his streak of double-digit games to eight.

Coach Tony Barbee on Wednesday pointed out the need for improved focus and defensive intensity after Auburn allowed 180 points in losses to Iowa State and Illinois.

The Tigers responded Thursday night.

Clemson came into the game with the NCAA's top defense, but didn't create its first lead until the second half. However, Auburn missed its first nine shots after halftime, which allowed the visiting Tigers to build a nine-point lead.

Denson, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer, collaborated with Harrell to reignite Auburn's offensive punch, but it was the team's defensive effort that helped seal the victory.

Center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum blocked a shot with 30 seconds left to keep Auburn ahead 63-62. Harrell followed with two free throws to put the game out of reach for good.

"You've got to keep fighting," Barbee said. "That has got to be our identity. I'm happy for the guys that they went out and executed what's got to be our identity -- and then they saw the rewards for it."

Denson said the team was "stagnant" in the blowout losses to Iowa State and Illinois, but said the improvements against Clemson were easily recognizable.

"We fought all night and that was apparent," Denson said. "When we were down by eight in the last two games, in our mind the game was over. But we fought, got back and came out with the win. (If) we play like that every night, we can compete with anybody."

Clemson's 64 points is the third-lowest total Auburn has allowed this season.

Still, Barbee said it was "nowhere near a perfect game."

After shooting 55 percent from the field in the first half, Auburn shot 39 percent during the second half. Auburn hit only 10 of its 19 free throws despite entering the game as the conference leader in that category.

Dixon-Tatum finished with four points, five rebounds and two blocks in what he and Barbee called an "off game" for the 7-foot center.

Junior point guard Malcolm Canada added seven points and two assists off the bench for the Tigers.

Auburn (5-3) will look to retain its momentum Sunday as the team takes on Boston College (4-7) at 1 p.m. inside Auburn Arena.



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