Tigers Make Big Comeback In Home Finale

The Tigers rallied from 20 points down to earn an SEC home men's basketball victory vs. Ole Miss.

Auburn, Ala.--Trailing by 20 points late in the first half against the team that gave the Tigers their worst beating this basketball season, Auburn rallied in the second half to knock off Ole Miss 76-73 in the home finale at the Auburn Arena on Wednesday night.

The Tigers scored 51 points in the second half by hitting 56 percent of their shots to earn their third SEC victory to go with 12 losses.

Kenny Gabriel led the charge in the second half. He hit two early threes after intermission, energized his teammates and the crowd as the Tigers steadily reeled in the Rebels after that.

Gabriel led the comeback with a career-best 24 points, seven rebounds and one assist in 27 minutes without making a turnover. "Since the beginning of the year, everybody has said they have been feeding off my energy," the junior forward said.

"In the first half we were a step behind on defense and on offense we couldn't put the ball in the hole," Gabriel pointed out. However, the second half was very different.

The Tigers made just six field goals on 23 attempts in the first 20 minutes as they trailed 41-25 at the break. If not for Gabriel's nine first half points the Tigers would have really been in trouble with the Rebels making 14-25 first half shots, including a sizzling 8-16 three pointers led by Dundrecous Nelson, who hit six treys and scored 19 points.

Nelson, who didn't score vs. the Tigers in the first game vs. Auburn the Rebels won 90-59 at Oxford, led all scorers with 30 points at the Auburn Arena. However, the Tigers held Ole Miss star Chris Warren to 12 points and he was just 3-16 from the field on Wednesday night.

Zach Graham, who scored 30 points vs. Auburn in game one, was 3-8 from the field and finished with seven points.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee said it was the best performance for Gabriel since the exhibition season. The junior went a step further saying, "It would have to be my best game at Auburn," he said.

Barbee couldn't contain his excitement over the win. After the game he walked to the student section to thank the fans for their support this season. A crowd listed at 7,107 showed up for the finale. "With our record, we should have 500 fans in here," Barbee said.

He noted he told his players the same thing, but pointed out the fans were there to show support for a team that has played hard and improved throughout the season.

"This team has shown fight," Barbee said. "This team has gotten better. It is not even the same team from the first game of the year. It is not even the same team from the first game of the conference season. This is a totally different team."

Chris Denson drives to the basket for Auburn.

Barbee had praise for the play of variety of Tigers like freshmen Chris Denson, who lost the ball on a tie-up in backcourt in the closing seconds on what Barbee called a "bonehead play," but then made two free throws to ice the victory. Denson finished 11 points, four rebounds and two assists.

The coach liked the way sophomore Rob Chubb stepped up in the closing minutes with big plays as the center finished with 11 points, three rebounds and clutch blocked shot.

Freshman Josh Langford, who scored four points and had five rebounds off the bench, got praise from Barbee for his defensive work.

The Tigers got 15 points and five rebounds from Earnest Ross, who said that he feels like the Tigers have grown significantly as team this season as they go into the regular season finale on Saturday at LSU. The winner of that game will escape finishing last in the SEC West and have a better seed for next week's SEC Tournament.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said, "We couldn't get it done. In the end we needed a body in there because they kept throwing it close and we couldn't get a stop. We had a big steal, but we just couldn't make a play."

Kennedy credited Gabriel with changing the momentum after halftime. "We started the half allowing Kenny Gabriel to shoot back-to-back threes It gave them life and energized their crowd, and then we were in a war from that point forward."

Auburn hit 31-40 free throws to 20-24 for the Rebels and that was the difference in the game as big men Terrance Henry and Reginald Buckner fouled out for the Rebels as Auburn pushed the ball inside particularly well in the second half.

Center Rob Chubb plays defense for the Tigers.

"We were out of position and playing behind as opposed to fighting to the top side," Kennedy said of his team's defense. "It sees like we were slow reacting to the ball. The zone bothered them early, and once you get into a little bit of a rhythm those shots become easier.

"We lost Earnest Ross a couple of times and allowed the guys that are the percentage shooters for them to step up and make some shots," Kennedy said.

Auburn erased the big Ole Miss lead at the 10:09 mark of the second half when Langford made a pair of free throws to make the score 49-49. Denson, at the 9:51 mark, put the Tigers on top 50-49 by hitting one of two free throws.

The game remained close the rest of the way with Auburn never trailing by more than a point and the Rebels managing to tie the game six more times before falling.

Auburn led by as much as 72-67 with 1:03 following two free throws by Gabriel, but Warren got bailed out on a missed three by a questionable foul call against Josh Wallace. The nation's leading foul shooter hit all three to cut the gap to two points with 58 seconds left.

Denson made two free throws with 35 seconds to put the Tigers up by four points, but Warren hit a long three with 21 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 74-73.

On the in-bounds play, Denson was tied-up with 16 seconds left as he tried unsuccessfully to dribble out of a double team and the possession arrow gave the ball to the Rebels. Then in a wild scramble in the closing seconds, Warren had a turnover with 14 seconds left. Ross then turned the ball over with a bad pass five seconds later, but he got a steal to set up Denson's free throws that the freshman guard made to wrap up the victory.

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