"The worst part about it is seeing Kenny Gabriel, Adrian Forbes and Tony Neysmith crying," Denson said. "That is tough. We really wanted to win the game for the seniors. We are going to hold it down for them next year, hopefully."
One of the seniors, Gabriel, played just 13 minutes after getting into very early foul trouble. He had to play timidly on the boards after that and finished the game with 11 points and no rebounds.
Ole Miss, which finished with 45 rebounds compared to just 31 for the Tigers, advances to a second round game on Friday vs. No. 2 Tennessee. The Rebels improved to 19-12 and took the season series 2-1 vs. Auburn.
Coach Tony Barbee's Tigers finished the season 15-16 overall, an improvement from the previous season, but not what he and his team were hoping for in his second year at Auburn.
"We are going to have to work in the offseason at getting tougher," Denson said. "We were out-rebounded by 14 tonight. Most times when that happens you are going to lose the game."
Barbee agreed with the sophomore guard, noting that rebounding and foul trouble were keys to the game.
"We ended up playing with lineups we hadn't played with all season," he said, noting that a lot of credit should go to the Rebels, who took control of the contest by shooting 52.2 percent in the second half.
"I thought our guys fought hard," the coach said. "It is hard for us to score and play with (Gabriel) not on the floor. "I am proud of the way my team fought, I am proud of the way the seniors fought.
"Give Ole Miss credit," Barbee added. "They really battled. They played tough. They are a hard team to keep off the offensive glass. Not only were they able to get offensive rebounds, they were able to convert them into buckets. I thought that was the difference in the game."
For the game Auburn shot just 32.7 percent. The Tigers hit 5-21 threes and were 13-20 at the foul line with 13 turnovers.
Ole Miss hit 43.8 percent from the field with 5-16 behind the three-point line and 21-32 at the foul line. The Rebels turned the ball over 18 times.
The Tigers got into major foul trouble in the first half and it didn't take long to happen. At intermission the Tigers had been called for 12 fouls with Gabriel playing just four minutes before getting three himself. Adrian Forbes, who played 12 minutes in the opening half, went into the locker room at the break with three fouls, too.
The first eight fouls of the game were called on the Tigers, a development that irked Barbee and even had the neutral fans at the New Orleans Arena questioning the officiating crew of Anthony Jordan, Antinio Petty and Pat Evans.
Fortunately for the Tigers the Rebels hit just 8-15 free throws in the first half while building a 28-23 edge at the break. It could have been much worse for the Tigers. Auburn was 3-5 at the free throw line in the first 20 minutes.
Both teams were 9-25 from the field for 36 percent at halftime. Auburn was out-rebounded 21-16 in the first half and had nine turnovers, one more than the Rebels.
Despite Gabriel picking up a quick fourth foul and going to the bench again and the Tigers falling behind by 10 points, the Tigers stayed within striking range.
Senior guard Tony Neysmith defends a shot by Terrance Henry.
Midway through the second half the lead was down to 45-42 thanks to defensive plays leading to fastbreak opportunities. However, that was as close as the Tigers would get as the Rebels steadily pulled away from an opponent that hit only 30 percent of its second half shots.
Nick Williams, who got hot in the second half to lead the Rebels, finished with a game-high 22 points. He hit 9-14 field goals including 4-8 threes.
Barbee had little to say about a news story earlier in the day that Auburn had requested an FBI investigation into a potential point-shaving situation involving sophomore guard Varez Ward.
Earlier in the day the university issued a statement on the subject that read: "Auburn officials were made aware of a rumor regarding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately reported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC. Because of the nature of the allegation, Auburn is not in a position to make any further comment on the situation."
"Our university released a statement which I totally support and stand behind," Barbee said. "Obviously, because of the nature of the allegations, I wouldn't be able to elaborate."
Sophomore Josh Wallace, the junior walk-on who has handled much of the point guard duties since Ward was suspended, said he couldn't talk about the situation with his teammate, but said the Tigers were ready to play on Thursday night. He said the news about Ward didn't cause the Tigers to lose the game.
"The problem we had was getting beat on the boards," Wallace said. "Every time we got close they got an offensive rebound and a putback to score."