The win improved Auburn's record to 6-1, the best start for the Tigers since the 2003-2004 season, but Auburn's head coach saw plenty of areas for improvement. "I am pleased that we won," Barbee said. "What I am not pleased with is playing hard as you can from the start to the finish."
Barbee said from watching video of North Florida that the Ospreys compete with intensity for the entire 40 minutes of a game. "They played Kansas State on the road into overtime and had a chance to win that game," the coach said of North Florida's previous outing. "That is why they took Kansas State into overtime."
The Auburn coach said his team did not match North Florida's intensity until late in the game and that isn't satisfactory if the Tigers are going to develop into the type of team he wants them to be.
Barbee was also displeased with his team's foul shooting (28-43, 65.1 percent), 15 turnovers and an excessive number of high percentage shots that were missed inside vs. the smaller opponent. "We were playing catch up because we were trying to catch up and match their intensity," Barbee said of his team that couldn't shake the Ospreys despite leading most of the games.
Kenny Gabriel led the Tigers with the fourth double-double of his career with 15 points and 13 rebounds, but Barbee said the senior forward could have played much better. ‘He was just okay," the coach said. "Stats lie all the time. This stat sheet doesn't tell the true story. He didn't play tough and physical. He gave up layups at the other end of the floor."
Gabriel was 5-11 at the foul line. "Free throws, free throws, free throws and layups, too," the senior said while looking at the game statistics.
Kenny Gabriel takes a jump shot.
Gabriel said the Tigers played better down the stretch in all areas, including the foul line. "Knocking down free throws at the end helped us out a lot," he said.
Three other Tigers scored in double figures with Varez Ward leading the team with 17 points. Chris Denson added 14 points. Frankie Sullivan scored 13 points and helped spark the late run that allowed the Tigers to stretch the margin into double figures.
Rob Chubb just missed a double-double. He pulled in a career-high 13 rebounds to go with nine points, but he made just 4-12 field goals. "I noticed pretty early that my hook shots and my touch around the basket wasn't all there tonight," the junior center said. "I was just having to pick up in other parts of the game to do whatever I can for my team."
North Florida, which fell to 5-6 for the season, used 10 players for double figures minutes and nine scored led by 13 from guard Travis Wallace.
North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said his team had issues staying out of foul trouble as well as committing turnovers at crunch time. "We have to do a better job at playing defense and not fouling as much," he said.
Auburn took the lead for good with 12:20 left when Ward hit a three-pointer at the top of the circle to make the score 50-47. "I felt that," he said of the shot. "I wanted to go out there and set the tone so that is why I kind of picked up the on-the-ball pressure and just tried to pick everybody up on defense. Everybody went along with that and we closed it out."
A three-pointer by Sullivan pushed the lead to nine points at 63-54 with 7:38, but Auburn's foul shooting problems and turnovers allowed the Ospreys to cut the lead to 66-63 with 5:23 to play and then to 71-69 with 3:41 remaining.
Josh Wallace then hit a running lefty banker and was fouled, but missed the free throw leaving the Tigers up by four. Sullivan then made three foul shots with 2:33 to stretch the lead to seven. The Tigers built the margin to 79-69 with 1:11 left on a foul shot by Ward and took care of business down the stretch.
"For the first 34 or 35 minutes, they played harder than us," said Gabriel, who noted that he wasn't surprised that Barbee was unimpressed by the senior's double-double. "Coach is always trying to push me because he wants me to be the best player I can be," Gabriel said.
Off Suspension: Sophomore Josh Langford got 12 minutes of playing time with Gabriel in foul trouble much of the game. Back for his first game this season after being suspended for violation of team rules, Langford was 3-3 from the field, 1-1 at the foul line and scored seven points and pulled in one rebound. Barbee said the former Tiger starter looked rusty, but will improve.
Josh Langford dunks for the Tigers.
Senior guard Tony Neysmith, who is also off suspension, did not play.
No Payne: Former Tiger starter Allen Payne watched the entire game from the bench. Barbee said the small forward's lack of production explains why. He noted that the sophomore had not scored a point or grabbed a rebound in his last 30 minutes of playing time. Getting Closer: Injured guards Cedrick McAfee and Noel Johnson warmed up with the team, but did not play. One or both could make their Auburn debuts on Monday night.
Home Winning Streak: The Tigers added to their Auburn Arena longest winning streak. With a win on Monday night the Tigers can will extend the streak to seven, its longest since 2008-2009.
Starting Lineup: The Tigers started three guards with Varez Ward and Frankie Sullivan returning to the starting five after coming off the bench on Wednesday. Chris Denson, Kenny Gabriel and Rob Chubb retained their starting spots from the previous contest.
Auburn: The Tigers were 14-34 from the field (41.2 percent) and 1-6 on threes and 10-13 at the foul line at the break. The Tigers had 22 rebounds, six assists, seven turnovers, two blocks and five steals. Gabriel led the Tigers in the first 20 minutes with 14 points and seven rebounds.
North Florida hit 13-29 field goals, 5-11 threes and 5-10 free throws. The visitors had 18 rebounds, 10 assists, nine turnovers, three blocks and five steals at the break. Travis Wallace led the Ospreys in scoring at the break with nine.
Migrating Ospreys: North Florida's trip to AU was its first-ever to Auburn for a basketball game and the first time to play the Tigers in hoops.
Still Hurting: Two of the three true freshmen on the roster have yet to play this season. McAfee is trying to recover from a stress fracture in one foot and plantar fasciitis in the other. Bernard Morena, a 6-8 forward, is sidelined with an ankle injury.
Mixed Results: While Auburn's shooting from the free throw line was a concern, the Tigers were an even 50 percent from the field and a solid 4-10 on threes.
The visitors hit 48.1 percent of their field goals and they were 8-18 on threes, but a miserable 11-25 at the foul line.
Up Next: The Tigers will play their third straight opponent from the state of Florida when they take on the Rattlers of Florida A&M on Monday. Tipoff is 7 p.m. CST at Auburn Arena.