It wasn't pretty, but when you're in the postseason, it doesn't have to be.
No. 7 Central had to overcome foul trouble, poor free-throw shooting and a pesky Auburn team Friday night, holding off the Tigers, 69-61, in the semifinals of the Class 6A, Area 5 tournament at Central.
"Without a doubt, Auburn made us work for this one," said Central coach Boibby Wright. "It's hard to beat a team three times in a season, and they went back and studied the film of the first two games.
"They did some things that caused us some problems. They played smart, but we were able to come out ahead in the end."
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Central will now face Smiths Station (17-11) for the area championship Monday at 7 p.m. at Central. Smiths Station advanced to the championship game by holding off Opelika, 55-51, in the night's opening contest.
Central (24-1) led for most of the game, but Auburn (11-15) never let the Red Devils pull away.
The Tigers (11-15) even had a chance to take the lead with under three minutes to go, but a turnover followed by a three-point play from Anthony Moore gave Central a 60-56 lead with 2:12 remaining.
A 3-pointer by Auburn's Tez Brooks got the Tigers back to within 61-59 with 1:25 left, but another three-point play, this one from Tre Todd, put the Red Devils back ahead 64-59 and Central was able to hold on from there.
Auburn led 11-8 with 2:10 to go in the first quarter after Tez Brooks made a free-throw, but Central scored the final five points of the period to take a 13-11 lead after the opening eight minutes.
The Red Devils stretched their lead to as much as six points in the second quarter, but the Tigers stayed close and Central only took a 33-29 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Devin Pugh led the Red Devils with 12 points and Tavare Igus had eight -- all in the second quarter after coming off the bench to replace starter Tionne Williams, who picked up two first-half fouls.
Central might have had a bigger halftime lead, but the Red Devils made just four of their nine free throws in the first 16 minutes. Auburn had a balanced scoring attack in the first half, as five players had five points or more, led by eight points from Josh Tolbert.
Central opened up an eight-point lead midway through the third quarter, but Auburn never went away and was only down 45-42 going into the fourth quarter. The Red Devils led the whole fourth quarter, but were unable to land a knockout punch until the game's final few minutes.
Pugh finished with 19 points to lead Central, which made just 18 of its 35 free throws (51.4 percent) for the game, but the Red Devils did make 12 of their 19 attempts (63.2 percent) in the fourth quarter. Igus and Moore added 12 points apiece and Mark Rodger pitched in 11 for the Red Devils.
Tolbert finished with 19 to pace Auburn and Brooks chipped in 17 in the loss. One of the reasons why the Tigers were able to stay close was they were able to make 18 of their 23 free-throw attempts (78.3 percent) in the game. Another is Auburn made five 3-pointers compared to Central's one.
In the Smiths Station-Opelika game, Devonte Marshall and Mike Hardin had 18 points apiece to lead the Panthers, who had to weather several attemmpts by the Bulldogs (14-7) to tie the game in the final minute of the contest. The win by Smiths Station avenged a loss to Opelika in the regular season and sent the Panthers into Monday's championship game against Central. Opelika got 17 points from Kenneth Keith and 13 out of A.J. Butler in the loss.
Friday at Central
Central 69, Auburn 61
Auburn 11 18 13 19--61
Central 13 20 12 24--69
Daniel 7, Brooks 9, Josh Tolbert 19, Mimi Ikejian 9, Tez Brooks 17. Totals 19 18-23 61.
Mark Rodger 11, Todd 6, Ward 4, Devin Pugh 19, Anthony Moore 12, Williams 5, Tavare Igues 12. Totals 25 18-35 69.
Records: Auburn 11-15, Central 24-1; Next: Central vs. Smiths Station (17-11) Monday at Central (Class 6A, Area 5 Championship) .
Smiths Station 55, Opelika 51
Opelika 11 14 12 14--51
Smiths Station 13 11 15 16--55
Kenneth Keith 17, Buggs 2, Vickerstaff 8, Frazier 2, A.J. Butler 13, Tolbert 7, Rogers 2.
Smiths Station (55)
Devante Marshall 18, Jackson 8, Mike Hardin 18, Keys 4, Heath 6, Porter 1.
Records: Opelika 14-7, Smiths Station 17-11