The six-foot-eight senior forward hit 11-13 field goals, including both of his three point shots, and added four steals plus three assists as Auburn improved its record to 10-3. The Tigers didn't get their 10th win last season until March 2nd.
Interestingly, the senior pulled off the first triple-double of his basketball career at any level despite eating something that didn't agree with him prior to the contest at Auburn Arena.
"Actually, I didn't warm up because my stomach started hurting and I had to leave the court," he said with a smile. However, he was ready to go for the opening tip and played 18 of the 20 minutes before halftime as he scored eight points, blocked eight shots and pulled in five rebounds.
He noted that he was told about his stats in the locker room at intermission by one of the assistant coaches and he decided to see if he could pull off the triple-double, which he did with room to spare. Gabriel sat the final six minutes of the contest with the game under control.
Asked if it was the best all-around game he has ever played, it didn't take the forward long to answer. "By far," he said. "To be able to get a triple-double is a great feeling."
Gabriel joked that on the rebound that put him into the Auburn history book he and teammate Rob Chubb were both in position to grab the ball. "Me and Chubb were fighting for a ball and I was like, "Hey, Chubb, I got it, I got it, I got it. To make sure I told whoever was beside me (on the next rebound) I got that one, too."
Barbee, who has pushed the senior forward hard the past two seasons to play his potential, was excited for the senior.
"It was pretty special," the coach said. "When you talk about the kind of talent that has come through this program from the Chuck Persons, the Charles Barkleys, the Chuck Persons, the Wesley Persons, the Mike Mitchells, the John Mengelts--you go down the line--and that this is the first triple-double in the history of this school is pretty special.
"Kenny has been playing well and we are going to need him to have games like this as this schedule becomes really real for us," Barbee said. "He had a special night and we gave him the game ball.
"Hat's off to him," the coach added. "He is the type of player that is not one-dimensional. He does so many things on the floor. He blocks shots, he rebounds, he scores. Occasionally, he can pass so he had a great game."
Barbee also liked that his Tigers held Bethune-Cookman to 41 points and 23.7 percent field goal shooting. "I am happy with the entire team that we really put together a complete defensive game for the first time in a long time," he said.
Gabriel said playing strong defensively was the major goal for the Tigers coming into the game vs. the Wildcats, whose record fell to 4-11.
"Coach has been telling us if we want to win games we have got to hold teams under 40 percent (shooting), which is our goal for every game," the senior said, noting that several recent opponents hit better than 50 percent of their shots vs. the Tigers.
"For the first half Bethune-Cookman shot 22 percent," Gabriel said. "The second half I think they shot about 23 percent. We just wanted to go out there and start the new year off right by playing defense and playing transition offense."
Auburn made 51.7 percent of its field goals and out-rebounded the Wildcats 42-34. The Tigers were 4-13 on threes and 3-7 at the foul line. Bethune-Cookman hit 6-17 threes and 7-9 free throws.
Auburn finished the game with 14 turnovers, one less than the visitors, and 11 steals and 11 blocks. The Wildcats had eight steals and two blocks.
Varez Ward had a career high 10 assists with two steals and two turnovers on a night he did not score.
Ricky Johnson led the visitors from the MEAC with 17 points.
Starting Lineup: Noel Johnson made his first Auburn start and was in the lineup with guards Frankie Sullivan, Varez Ward, forward Kenny Gabriel and center Rob Chubb.
Johnson played 23 minutes and scored six points and pulled in eight rebounds, but made just 3-9 field goals and was 0-3 on treys.
"We are still searching in that spot," Barbee said. "Chris Denson has probably earned the right to start in that spot. Chris understands that starting is not important, finishing is." Barbee said he likes to bring Denson off the bench for a spark both offensively and defensively.
McAfee Sidelined: Freshman guard Cedrick McAfee has seen limited action due to a stress fracture in his foot. He was wearing a boot on Monday night and may be headed for a redshirt year as the foot continues to bother him.
At The Half: Auburn outshot the Wildcats 55.6 percent (15-27 field goals) to 22.6 percent (7-31) to build a 34-19 lead. The Tigers helped their cause with a 34-19 rebounding advantage.
Tigers and Wildcats: The game was just the third in basketball between Auburn and Bethune-Cookman. Auburn also won the previous two contests.
Up Next: The Tigers play at 5 p.m. CST on Wednesday at Florida State, a team Auburn upset last season.