Tigers Rally Despite Poor Defensive Effort

Chris Denson and Robert Chubb had clutch baskets for the Tigers (9-3) in a 78-75 win over Georgia Southern at home on Friday, but poor defense nearly cost the Tigers as the Eagles has open looks all night.

Auburn, Ala. – Chris Denson hit a clutch three-pointer from the corner to give Auburn a 71-69 lead over Georgia Southern with 2:24 remaining, an advantage the Tigers would never relinquish as they held on to beat the Eagles 78-75.

Denson's three pointer gave Auburn its first lead since 15-14. "The play was for Rob Chubb at first," Denson said. "Chubb was on all night. The defender bit on Varez (Ward). Varez went to the hole, my man helped, Varez kicked it to me, and I knocked down the three."

Denson also went 10-12 from the free throw line to help ice out the game for the Tigers, who had to overcome a 14-point first half deficit.

"It's what he does," head coach Tony Barbee said of Denson. "He scores the ball. He makes foul shots. He made a big three. Kenny (Gabriel) made a couple big threes.

"Offense is not our issue," Barbee added. "We'll score enough points to play with anybody, but if we don't defends with more of a sense of urgency than we did tonight or than we did at any point in Hawaii, the season could get real long real quick. "

The Tigers dug themselves into the hole because of defensive laziness, according to Denson and Chubb, who finished with a game-high 21 points.

"As everybody sees, we can score the ball," Denson explained. "I think our main stride has to be on defense. Defense, defense, defense. I don't think anybody gave it all on defense tonight, including myself. We can't do that against a Vanderbilt or Kentucky. I'm sure that game won't end the same as this one did."

Chubb also came up with a key basket down the stretch for the Tigers. With 44 seconds remaining and a one-point lead, the junior center extended Auburn's lead to three with a hook shot on the post.

"We wanted to make sure we got a look in the paint whether it was off the drive or on the post up." Barbee said of Chubb's basket. "Whether it was Rob or any of our guards attacking off those ball screens."

From there on it became a free throw battle, and Denson delivered. Auburn connected on 17-23 for the game. Georgia Southern had a last ditch effort to tie the game with 1.6 seconds remaining, but threw the ball the length of the court into the post area and a final miss was well inside the arc.

Rob Chubb

Despite Chubb's 21 points, he also pointed to the negatives after the game after beating a Georgia Southern team that dropped to just 3-8 and is riding a 24-game road losing streak.

"The first four or five games it almost looked everything was coming together," Chubb said of the Tigers' 4-0 start. "Right now it definitely looks like everything is slipping a little bit--being lackadaisical.

"A lot of people are being really lazy on defense, which is getting other people open on defense. It's why other teams have been getting ridiculously high shooting percentages on us. We've just been breaking down and just not helping each other. We'll get there. We're just making a little slower progress than we were expecting."

Auburn trailed by as much as 35-21 in the first half and 39-30 at halftime. The Eagles shot 64 percent from the field in the first half and continued to make open shot after open shot in the second half until the Auburn defense started playing with consistent intensity late in the game.

"It's back to laziness," Chubb said. "We play a certain type of defense to where if somebody gets beat the rest of the team shades over toward that person and helps. Once everything starts breaking down, and everybody starts breaking down, our help gets lazy and then people get wide open lay-ups and wide-open shots.

"(Point guard Willie Powers) Number 50 had way too many open threes," Chubb added. "He would just take people off the dribble, come straight down the lane and then help would go into effect, and it would open up other people. We've got to work on on-the-ball defense. It will come together with more effort."

Last season Auburn blew a 29-point lead to Georgia Southern only to win in overtime. Still, Chubb said that Auburn may have taken the Eagles lightly on Friday.

"As much as I want to say no, we kind of did," he explained. "We shouldn't have because we're coming off two losses, which is not acceptable."

Auburn's late rally was also fueled by foul trouble by GSU's post players. Eric  Ferguson, whose size and athleticism gave the Tigers fits, fouled out in 25 minutes after contributing 20 points. Cameron Baskerville also played a long stretch with four fouls.

Powers finished with a game high 23 points on 9-12 shooting from the floor. Georgia Southern struggled down the stretch, but still made 29-53 shots for 54.7 percent.

"A win is a win," Barbee said. "You've always got to be happy about a win. The only thing I'm disappointed about is we're not getting how hard we've got to play, how tough we've got to defend and how tough we have to rebound. It's disappointing because it's what we spend 75 to 80 percent of our time on. The worst thing we do right now is defend.

"I'm looking for answers because right now I don't have them," the head coach continued. "I know where they are. They're in that locker room. And for whatever reason, it would be a good question to ask the players, why aren't they defending and rebounding and playing the tenacity every second they're on the floor. They're not doing it."

Auburn has two more games before conference play. The next game will be Monday at home against Bethune-Cookman at 7 p.m.

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