No. 18 Auburn has won 18 of its last 19 games but will be going for only its third regular-season tournament title since 2000 when it takes on Richmond on Tuesday night in the title game of the Roman Legends Classic in New York.
The Tigers (6-0), who haven’t lost since last season’s Final Four setback to Virginia, are seeking their first 7-0 start since the 2003-04 team won its first seven games before fading to a 14-14 finish. Auburn’s last in-season tournament championship came in the 2004 San Juan Shootout.
The Tigers defense forced New Mexico into 24 turnovers and held the Lobos to their lowest scoring output of the season in an 84-59 victory on Monday night in the Legends Classic semifinals.
“I thought we physically were dominant, and I thought our defense carried the day,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We wore them down a little bit with our pressure and our effort and energy. The pace of that game early was something else.”
The Tigers shot a season-low 42.1 percent but held the Lobos to just 40.3 percent from the field, just their second outing under 47 percent for the season. The Lobos came into the game shooting 51.5 percent for the season and were averaging 85.5 points per game with a season-low of 63 in a three-point loss at Texas-El Paso that ended a stretch of four consecutive 90-plus outings.
“New Mexico has a good club, a talented club,” Pearl said. “They do good stuff, and they’re going to have a really good year in their league. That’s a good win for our team.”
Senior guard Samir Doughty continued his hot hand for the Tigers. He made 5 of 9 from long range and scored 19 points for the night, his third consecutive game with at least that many points. He leads the Tigers in scoring with his average 18.8 points per game.
Richmond (5-0) has won its first five games of the season for the first time since 1985-86 after dispatching Wisconsin 62-52 in the first semifinal. The Spiders used a 12-2 spurt over the last 4:44 to break open what had been a tough battle.
They won despite getting only five points out of their No. 3 scorer, Jacob Gilyard. The junior guard was averaging 20.8 points entering the game. With Gilyard hitting just 1 of 5 from the floor, junior guard Blake Francis, a transfer from Wagner, scored 19 to top the team for the second game in a row. His six assists were also a career high.
The Spiders, from the Atlantic 10 Conference, relish the chance to take on major-conference opponents.
“You could sense our guys were ready,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “We’ve had four home games to open the season, and you could sense that our guys knew this was a great opportunity.
“The highlights of Richmond’s program have been beating these high-major teams.”
The Tigers and Spiders have one common opponent in the young season. They both handled Cal State Northridge handily, with Richmond winning 90-62 and Auburn romping 116-70.
–Field Level Media