Tigers Over the Rainbows In Thriller

The Auburn basketball team defeated Hawaii 65-62 in dramatic fashion Thursday night/Friday morning. The Tigers will play Long Beach State in round two of the Diamond Head Classic at 10 p.m. Central on Friday.

Honolulu—Facing a win or lose final possession after Hawaii took its only lead of the game with 8.6 seconds left, Auburn put the ball in the hands of sophomore point guard Varez Ward and the Montgomery native made something happen as his dish to Rob Chubb for a dunk put the Tigers up 63-62.

A Chris Denson steal and two free throws by the sophomoe guard put the finishing touches on a 65-62 victory for Auburn to improve the club to 8-1 on the year.

"It came down to the last possession," Chubb said. "They knew that Varez Ward was going to get the ball and he was going to try to create something. He comes coast to coast and three guys collapse on him. I didn't think they made a window for him, but he somehow got the ball to me and I looked up and I'm right under the rim. It was a heck of a play by him."

Coach Tony Barbee's team will now face Long Beach State in the second round of the Diamond Head Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center at 10 p.m. Central time on Friday. The game will be televised by ESPN2. Long Beach has defeated ranked Pittsburgh and Xavier already this season.

"It's always one of the keys to the game is adversity," Barbee said. "We talk about it. There's going to be adversity in every game and you know there is going to be adversity when you play on the road against a good team like Hawaii in their building.

"It's the biggest crowd they've had all year, not even close," Barbee said. "They were into it and made it hard. I was proud of the guys. Our first road test we didn't handle the adversity very well. We didn't respond to it. I'm proud of the guys. We were resilient tonight.

Using a play that has been very successful for Barbee and his staff in recent seasons, Auburn inbounded the ball with just eight seconds left to Ward after first sending another guard as a decoy down the court. When Hawaii jumped on the first player it opened a lane for Ward to drive down the court and find an open Chubb for the finish to seal the win.

"It's why you work on situations every day in practice," Barbee said. "That play we ran we work on it over and over and over. We work on it two or three times a practice so when you get into these situations there is no panic.

"I called the timeout and I said, ‘You know what we're going to.' They called out the name of the play. It's silly how that play works. Our staff has been together, this is our sixth year. We've probably won seven games at the buzzer on that play."

Guard Frankie Sullivan led Auburn with 17 points and added seven rebounds and six assists while Chubb added big points with 10 coming in the second half. Kenny Gabriel was the only other Tiger in double figures with 13 points as Auburn won a battle against a Hawaii team that kept coming back time after time in front of a big home crowd.

Frankie Sullivan had an excellent game in the win

Leading by six at the half Auburn was never able to pull away from the Rainbow Warriors in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic despite building the lead to as many as nine points early in the second half on a Gabriel basket. Hawaii would roar back behind the three-point shooting of Zane Johnson, however, as one of his four three-pointers for the game was part of a 9-0 run for the Rainbows that brought them even at 43-43 with 14:40 remaining.

The Tigers opened the lead back to seven points behind the trio of Sullivan, Chubb and Gabriel. Up 51-44 with just over five minutes left, Auburn gave up a basket to Shaquille Stokes to end a seven-minute field goal drought for Hawaii. It didn't seem to phase Barbee's bunch as the Tigers continued to hold a steady lead until late in the contest when turnovers would allow Hawaii back in the game.

Leading 59-51 with 2:35 left following a Gabriel basket, Auburn watched as the Rainbows scored the next six points to get within a basket. The last four points came after back-to-back turnovers by the Tigers with under two minutes.

Up by two Sullivan hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back to four, but a three-point play by Trevor Wiseman with 28.2 seconds left brought Hawaii back within one.

Sullivan got the ball back and missed two straight from the free throw line to give the Rainbows a chance. Vander Joaquim's basket with 8.6 seconds left gave Hawaii its only lead of the game and set the stage for the dramatic win for the Tigers.

Denson added seven points for Auburn while Ward scored six along with Josh Langford off the bench. The Tigers made just 6-18 from behind the three-point line, but shot 48.1 percent from the field compared to 43.1 percent for Hawaii.

Auburn got off to a good start as the Tigers got baskets from Gabriel and Chubb before Denson hit a three to make it 7-2. A Ward basket then put Barbee's team up by seven just minutes into the contest. Hawaii wouldn't lie down however as the Rainbows scored the next six points to get back into the game in a hurry.

Chris Denson scores on a layup.

With the lead at one the Tigers started to open things up once again as a Sullivan runner made the score 11-8 Auburn. Following a turnover Sullivan then hit Langford on a long pass that the sophomore caught in mid-air and jammed home for the dunk. With Langford adding another basket on a putback and Sullivan making a three from the left corner the Tigers built the lead to 24-13, but that's when Hawaii would answer the run with a run of its own.

The combination of Joaquim and Joston Thomas in the middle provided a tough matchup for the Tigers as the two combined for 15 points in the first half. In the process they dealt foul trouble Auburn's way as reserve Willy Kouassi picked up three fouls in the first half with Adrian Forbes getting a pair himself.

Behind those two Hawaii cut Auburn's lead to one on a 10-0 run with just over four minutes left in the first half before a Langford basket got the Tigers back on track. A Ward three-pointer pushed the Auburn lead back to four seconds later. Following a Thomas basket Auburn got a free throw from Ward before Gabriel hit a big three from the top of the key. Another Sullivan basket put the Tigers up by eight before a late Rainbow basket left the Tigers with a 35-29 lead at the break.

Josh Langford dunks for the Tigers.

Defense was the story for the Tigers in the first half as Hawaii made just 11-27 (40.7 percent) in the first half and just two of 10 from outside the three-point line. Hawaii was also just 5-12 from the free throw line in the first half with Auburn making one of two. Auburn never trailed in the first half, but would have a battle to try to finish it off against the scrappy Rainbows.

In the previous game Long Beach State came away a 68-58 winner in the third game of the day. With the win Long Beach State improves to 6-5 on the season. With the loss 15th-ranked Xavier fell to 8-2 on the season with both losses coming in the wake of the suspensions that came in a fight with Cincinnati.

In the other half of the bracket, Kansas State defeated Southern Illinois 83-58 and will UTEP, a 61-58 upset winner over Clemson. The finals of the tournament are scheduled for Christmas Day.

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