BY HARRISON TARR
FOR THE OBSERVER
When fans piled into the Auburn High School gymnasium on Tuesday evening, there was a tangible buzz in the air. Head coach Chris Brandt’s squad’s season has gone according to plan thus far, the Tigers are seemingly a shoo-in for the playoffs and the visiting Smiths Station Panthers entered the contest red-hot. It is little surprise that the stars came out in Auburn’s 70-68 win on senior night.
From opening tipoff on, there was little doubt that both squads wanted to take home a victory and that the highlight reel for the contest was going to be one to write home about as each team took turns throwing down emphatic dunks within the first two minutes.
The up-tempo offense was prominent on both ends of the floor; when the rim-shattering fireworks died down, it was the hometown Tigers who pulled ahead and developed a consistent rhythm.
“I thought — first half — we played probably the best half we’ve played all year,” Brandt said. “We were moving the ball well, we were cutting, we were playing great defense, we were talking.”
Although proud of his team’s first-half efforts, the leader of the blue and white praised his opponents’ ability to keep themselves in position to stay in — or win — every game.
“Smiths is the type of team that you can never get too far ahead or behind,” Brandt said. “They’re relentless in their pressure. They kept double teaming Ja (Carr), making other people step up.”
The Panther defense limited standout junior Carr to just eight points across the contest in its entirety.
In an effort to counter Smith Station’s double teaming of Carr, Brandt claims that his squad attempted to apply the full-court press.
“I thought we did a good job of getting them tired,” Brandt said. “But I do know that they’re so used to working on the press — because that’s what they do — so they don’t get effected by the press. They were breaking it pretty easily.”
The defensive adjustment did not prove fruitful for the Tigers as the silver and black found a way to maneuver the high-intensity scheme and effectively climb their way back into the ball game.
“They did an excellent job making free throws tonight,” Brandt said. “They didn’t miss many. One of the things I was trying to do was make them shoot the ball and not let them get to the free throw line but they did an excellent job of doing that.”
Despite a late-game comeback generated by the Panthers’ ability to get to the charity stripe, Auburn found a way to fend off its opponents until the final buzzer. Brandt depicted it as a tribute to his team’s ability to fight through any situation.
“The game was close,” Brandt said. “We were resilient, we kept fighting. It came down to the end and that’s what made the difference.”
Following Tuesday’s win, Auburn finds itself 16-8 on the season (1-2 within the area) and sets itself up with feasible hopes of a late-season tournament run. The Tigers will be back in action on Friday night when the squad travels to Phenix City to take on the Red Devils of Central High School at 7 p.m. CST.