St. Joseph’s trailed by as many as 11 points to Auburn in the second half on Thursday, but the Hawks were in the driver’s seat with their season-opener on the line. Last year’s leading scorer, Ryan Daly, was at the free throw line.
Even though he was struggling from the field, Daly had a chance to give the Hawks a three-point lead with 20 seconds remaining in regulation. But Daly missed one of two free throws, and Auburn capitalized with an easy dunk to tie the game. Then Daly missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer.
Overtime belonged to the Tigers as a familiar issue plagued the Hawks. Auburn had 56-39 rebounding edge that played a large role in the 96-91 victory over the Hawks in the Fort Myers Tipoff at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Cypress Lake, Fla.
“The rebounding is unacceptable,” Hawks coach Billy Lange said. “We’ve got too many guys that play too many minutes that have very little rebounds. We got a mascot on the side that’s flapping [its wings] 4,000 times, so I expect us to go after every rebound with the same intensity.”
Daly and Taylor Funk led the Hawks with seven rebounds. Auburn had four players with seven or more rebounds. Funk played only seven games last season. He made up for lost time in this game. While the bigger Anthony Longpre could have started at center, it was Funk who got the call, and he made Lange look smart.
Funk was good both inside and outside the arc, scoring 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting. He is more undersized than a prototypical center, but he also blocked two shots and changed others.
“I expect more from Taylor,” Lange said. “He’s capable of even more. It might not be things that are obvious to the casual fans. But to us I just think he’s even better.”
For Auburn, Jaylin Williams scored the basket to tie the game, and led his team with 18 points.
Daly shot 6-of-20 in his 18-point effort. He also had seven rebounds and seven assists. In games that Daly struggled to score last season, the Hawks were usually not as competitive. This time, Dahmir Bishop knocked down four threes and scored 14 points, plus Jack Forrest had 15 points before fouling out.
“Guys like [Bishop], Greg Foster and Taylor Funk haven’t played for a very long time,” Lange said. “The fact that those guys can get out there and start to feel the game a little bit is encouraging for us.”
Even in a loss, it’s a good sign for the Hawks. If last year is any indication, Daly will have much better shooting nights, and so will Cameron Brown, who went scoreless and was a team-worst minus-13 in just 18 minutes. It was his first scoreless game since Nov. 21 last season against Florida.
St. Joe’s didn’t travel to Florida for a participation trophy. The Hawks will have another chance to pull an upset Friday against sixth-ranked Kansas.
“We did not come here to do anybody any favors, so we’re disappointed we lost,” Lange said. “There will be a lot to learn, and we’re going to grow from this.”