Short-Handed Tigers Looking for Payback

The Auburn's men's basketball team looks for payback in rematch against Tide, but attrition has dealt Tony Barbee a major blow with Allen Payne added to the injured list.

Auburn, Ala.--After watching his team wither down the stretch on Saturday against Arkansas, Auburn head coach Tony Barbee is hoping Wednesday's rematch against arch-rival Alabama will bring out the "pit bull" in his players.

"You would hope it does, and obviously we talk about it," said Barbee. "I'm sure they talk about it as well. Yeah, it happens to be the next game, but it's the in-state rival. Like they came and won on our home floor, we've got to try and win on their home floor."

Barbee said the team doesn't have a lot of mean pit bulls, even though he tries to manufacture that trait in practice.

"There's only so far you can go," he said. "You try to drill it in practice, and you can teach some of that stuff, but a lot of that has to be instinctual and natural, and we don't have a lot of guys that have that in them. We have a lot of quiet, reserved personalities."

Barbee is going to need all the tenaciousness he can get out of his depleted squad. The Tigers are expected to be missing as many as six of their 13 scholarship players on Wednesday.

Sophomore forward Allen Payne underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair his menicus in his left knee and is not expected back this season.

Auburn will be also be without Josh Langford, who is still showing effects from a concussion that has kept him out of the lineup for more than a month.

There has also been no indication from Barbee that Varez Ward and Chris Denson, who were suspended indefinitely Saturday for undisclosed violations of team rules, will return to play against the Tide.

Two other Tigers, forward Bernard Morena and guard Cedrick McAfee, are redshirting due to injuries that ruined their freshman seasons.

With so many players out, Barbee said he's looking for reserve players to take advantage of their opportunity to play and step up to help the team finish and win games.

"We can't just be relying on one or two guys," noted the head coach. "It can't be Frankie and Kenny that we're looking at to bail us out all the time. We've got to have some other guys step up and perform, and that's what we've been working on."

One player the Tigers were looking to step up was Allen Payne, who scored a season-high 15 points against Arkansas on Saturday to go along with seven rebounds and three assists.

Barbee said he liked the way Payne battled back into the starting lineup after going through an early season slump.

The Tigers (14-14, 4-10) will face an Alabama team that is playing at a higher level than it was in the rivals' first game at the Auburn Arena three weeks ago, which the Tide won 68-50. Alabama (19-9, 8-6) has won three straight games and six of its last eight. In their last two games against Arkansas and Mississippi State, the Tide has shot better than 50 percent from the field and made 12 of their 22 attempts from behind the arc.

"They have a lot of guys stepping up and making shots now, and that's what we have to key on—not letting them get to the rack how they did against us," said Kenny Gabriel. "We just have to contest at the three, and if they beat us making threes, then we'll live and die with it."

Junior guard Frankie Sullivan said the Tigers didn't realize how big the Auburn/Alabama rivalry was until after their loss to the Tide earlier this month.

"Man, I got so much grief behind that game," said Sullivan, who scored 21 points in the first matchup between the Tigers and Tide. "People where I'm from, that's what they live and die for every day—the Alabama/Auburn rivalry. I think people on the team didn't realize how big it was until after that game.

"We went back and saw the tweets that the Alabama fans had against us and the players had, when they said they came in and we didn't protect our house, basically, that's what they were saying on Twitter about us," he added. "And once you see that, you feed off that energy. It has to do something to you. It makes you mad when you know you didn't play your best game and take full advantage of it."

Gabriel is also still feeling the effects of a nasty spill he took a week ago against Florida, although he was able to play Saturday against the Razorbacks, scoring 14 and grabbing five boards.

Kenny Gabriel has been Auburn's top player this season as a senior.

"He took a couple spills in the Arkansas game where he took some charges and some tough layups where he got hit and went to the ground, but he's fighting through the pain and trying to give us everything he has," said Barbee. "The fact that he's stepping in and sacrificing himself for the team, that's big."

The Tide will also be less than full strength for Wednesday's game. Alabama's Tony Mitchell has been suspended for the rest of the season and guard Trevor Lacey's status for Wednesday's game is uncertain after he re-aggravated an injured ankle on Saturday.

The battle between the Tigers and Tide will begin at 7 p.m. CST Wednesday at Coleman Coliseum, where Alabama holds a 36-7 record in the series. The game will be carried on the SEC Network.

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