Healthier Junior Eager to Step Up for AU

Allen Payne's healthier and that could be a good thing for Tony Barbee's Auburn basketball Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--After battling knee issues for nearly a year, Auburn junior Allen Payne says he is close to full speed as his Tigers prepare to open their Southeastern Conference basketball schedule with a home game vs. LSU.

"This is the best time of year right here," the six-foot-six forward says. "You get to play in one of the best conferences in America. It is going to be tough every night. That is the best part. You get to go out and compete against teams you know are going to be in contention for the NCAA Tournament."

Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CST for the LSU at Auburn game that will be televised on CSS. The visitors will bring a 9-2 record to Auburn Arena.

"I am ready, we're ready to compete and turn this season around starting with LSU," Payne says.

His Tigers will bring just a 6-7 record into league play, but are coming off a solid victory over Florida State after narrowly losing on the road to Illinois. Payne performed well in both of those contests with 10 points and 10 rebounds vs. Illinois followed by a career-high 17 points in the win over FSU.

"I feel real confident right now, especially after these past two games playing at a high level against two really good teams," Payne says. "Also, the confidence my teammates have in my right now is helping me play a little bit better.

"They are egging me on to be more aggressive," the forward points out. "So is the coaching staff because they know I can play at a higher level than I had been playing the first couple of games."

Payne notes that one of the reasons he is performing better is better health. He injured his left knee last season vs. Arkansas and is just now getting back to full speed with that issue after having problems with his meniscus and a small ACL tear. He also notes that he also hurt his right knee over the summer because he was favoring his left knee.

"I was just trying to battle through those two (knee problems) the first two months of the season," Payne says. "Now I am starting to feel a lot better, which is leading to me to be able to play more aggressively."

Payne is shown in action last season as a sophomore.

Tony Barbee says he is pleased to see Payne making progress physically with his knees and with his play. The Auburn coach is counting on the forward to be a major factor as a rebounder and scorer, especially with Chris Denson and Jordan Price out for at least three to four more weeks with injuries.

"He is playing hard, he is being competitive and he is playing with a lot more confidence because he is as close to healthy as he can be and that makes us a better team," Barbee says.

The coach adds that he doesn't expect Payne to score 17 points and add seven rebounds every game, but says the forward should be a consistent scorer in double figures.

"An off night for Allen should be 13 (points) and five (rebounds), not five (points) and two (rebounds)," Barbee says. "He knows those are the expectations that I have for him and hopefully he can continue to play with that level of confidence and that level of production."

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