It's A Block Party As Tigers Set AU Record

The Tigers blocked 17 shots as Auburn sports celebrities watched the basketball team improve to 3-0.

Auburn, Ala.--With one of the greatest shot blockers in Auburn history watching the action, the Auburn basketball Tigers set a school record for blocks in a single game with 17 in a 78-57 victory over Nicholls State on Friday.

Former Tiger and NBA star Charles Barkley, known as the Round Mound of Rebound, was also famous for his ability to block shots and he saw six different Tigers do it led by five apiece from centers Rob Chubb and Willy Kouassi while forward Kenny Gabriel added four.

Varez Ward had the most impressive all-around performance for the Tigers. The sophomore guard led the team with 20 points and he was also Auburn's top rebounder with eight. In addition he contributed five assists, three steals and a block while turning the ball over just one time in a team-high 33 minutes of action.

"I was excited to get back out there and have another game," said Ward, who noted that it was fun to be playing in a game again after a layoff of 10 days.

The Tigers, who improved to 3-0, got off to a slow start, leading just 39-33 at the break. However, as expected, they took control of the contest early in the second half against a physically overmatched opponent that did not have a player taller than six-foot-seven.

Ward said the blocked shots didn't come as a surprise. "This goes on every day in practice," he said matter-of-factly. "It was nothing new for me."

However, it was new for Auburn and topped only once in SEC history. The Tigers just missed the league record of 18 blocks by Arkansas in 1996 vs. Missouri. The old Auburn record was 16 blocks vs. Jacksonville State in 1998 and vs. Miami in 2001.

Auburn head coach Tony Barbee said his team played "okay" on Friday night as a crowd of 7,182 watched the action at the Auburn Arena. "It is hard to be upset with the win, but like any coach you always nit-pick about things you would like to do a little bit better," he stated.

Barbee said the Tigers' defense left something to be desired. "We had to play too much zone," he said, but he added, "I thought our zone looked good. We disrupted their rhythm.

"We have got to rebound better than we did tonight," Barbee said. "That team had been getting out-rebounded by 20 tonight and they evened us up on the backboard, but a win is a win. We just have got to keep getting better. With that big of a layoff it is hard for them to be as sharp as you want them to be."

Barbee said he enjoyed seeing Barkley at the game as well as Auburn superstar Bo Jackson, who stopped by the team's locker room after the game to talk to the Tigers. "It tells you about this Auburn family," he said. "It is not just sport to sport and football. We all support each other."

Auburn hit 42.6 percent of its field goals, 6-22 threes and 14-17 foul shots. The Tigers had 17 assists and just eight turnovers.

Nicholls State, which fell to 1-5 with the loss, was led by Chris Talkington's 20 points while Trevon Lewis scored 15 points and added 12 rebounds.

The Colonels hit 32.3 percent of their shots, 7-22 threes and 10-14 free throws. They finished with 14 assists and 17 turnovers and were out-rebounded 44-43.

Auburn got 13 points and six rebounds from Frankie Sullivan, 11 points and five rebounds from Allen Payne and 10 points apiece from reserve guards Chris Denson and Josh Wallace.

Sophomore guard Chris Denson drives to the basket for the Tigers.

Auburn stretched the lead back into double figures when Sullivan hit a three with 14:25 left in the second half. The Tigers built the lead to 21 points at 65-44 midway through half with 9:54 to play and was never threatened after that.

3-In-A-Row: Barbee kept the same starting lineup as in the first two games--two guard Frankie Sullivan, point guard Varez Ward, center Rob Chubb, forward Kenny Gabriel, forward Allen Payne.

Colonels Vs. Conference (SEC): Nicholls State played LSU to open its season, falling 96-74 to the Bayou Bengals.

Around the SEC: Going into Friday's games Alabama (6-0) and Kentucky (5-0) were the only SEC teams in addition to Auburn who have not lost a game this season.

Colonels Vs. Tigers: Auburn's all-time record vs. Nicholls State is now 4-1.

Halfway There: The Tigers led 39-33 at the half. The biggest margin was 13 points. Ward led the Tigers at the break with 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Both teams shot 40 percent from the field, but the visitors were 5-10 on threes while Auburn made just 1-14. The Tigers managed to hit 5-8 threes after halftime.

Freshman Making Progress: Six-foot-ten center Kouassi said he is gaining confidence and becoming more comfortable playing vs. college competition. He finished with seven rebounds, one steal and one point in addition to his five blocks. "Blocking shots and rebounding is natural for me so I think that I did alright tonight," Kouassi said.

Fellow post player Rob Chubb said about Kouassi. "He has great potential," the junior said. "The thing about Willy is he plays real hard. If he is going to make a mistake he does it at full speed and that helps."

Rob Chubb blocks a shot vs. the Colonels.

Celebrity Spell Out: Barkley, on break from his TV gig with the NBA on strike, held up the "N" sign on the spell out A-U-B-U-R-N cheer, which drew a roar from the crowd at the Auburn Arena.

Also In the House: In addition to Barkley and Jackson, two-time All-American guard and former NBA player John Mengelt was at the arena. Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner, is scheduled to be on the ESPN GameDay Show on Saturday that will be telecast from the Auburn campus.

Barbee Praises Fans: Auburn's head coach said the crowd was "great" on Friday night. "I think people are starting to get excited about this team and program," he said.‘

Sideline: Senior forward/center Adrian Forbes was held out of action to heal his ankle that he injured in practice. Barbee said the problem does not appear to be serious.

On Deck: The Tigers return to action on Monday night with a 7 p.m. home game vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

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