Tigers Win SEC Basketball Opener

Tony Barbee's Tigers rallied in the second half for an SEC hoops victory vs. LSU.

Auburn, Ala.--Freshman Shaq Johnson just missed a double-double, but his Auburn basketball team didn't miss an opportunity to win its SEC opener, knocking off LSU 68-63 Wednesday night at the Auburn Arena.

Johnson scored 11 points and pulled down nine rebounds while adding three assists and a blocked shot. The six-foot-five guard said he thought it was the best game of his young college career. "I just came out with the same menality--just to play hard and try to win."

Junior Allen Payne continued his streak of good play with a team-high 15 points, four rebounds and four assists as the Tigers evened their record at 7-7 overall. LSU fell to 9-3.

It was a third straight game that Payne scored in double figures with the help of a quick start as he produced Auburn's first seven points. Coach Tony Barbee noted the senior also hit key shots later in the game when the Tigers were in scoring droughts.

One of those droughts came late in the first half when the Tigers only scored six points in the final eight minutes of the period, turning a seven-point lead into a 28-27 deficit.

LSU then scored five points in the first minute of the second half prompting Barbee to call a timeout to scold his team. He said that he couldn't repeat exactly what he told them, but whatever it was it worked.

Auburn pulled even at 37-37 on a power jam by Asauhn Dixon-Tatum at the 15:02 mark and took the lead for good on a steal and layup by Josh Wallace nine seconds later.

Auburn built the lead to as many as 14 points before coasting home with the victory.

"Like I said about the Florida State game, we are starting to mature as a team," Payne said. "Young guys like Shaq and Brian (Brian  Greene) are starting to pick up how to win and how to keep their head up when adversity is coming so I think that is the biggest thing we started to think about coming out of that timeout Coach called.

"I think we are starting to grow up a lot," Payne added. "It showed when we started the spark coming back."

Shaq Johnson drives to the basket for the Tigers.

Barbee said his team's second half run was led by defense, a contrast from the first half when the Tigers gave up too many easy baskets as the Bayou Bengals beat double-teams or got points on rebound baskets.

The Auburn coach saw his team get out-rebounded 40-38 thanks to a 14-7 edge by the visitors in offensive rebounds.

Auburn shot 46.3 percent from the field while the visitors hit 37.3 percent. Auburn was 6-18 on threes while LSU made 9-27.

Both teams struggled at the foul line in the physical game. Auburn hit 12-22 free throws as LSU fouled intentionally in the final minutes while LSU made just 4-10.

LSU was led by Charles Carmouche, who scored 15 points, while Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer each added 13 points.

LSU coach Johnny Jones said his team's 27 three-pointers were too many and he added that his team didn't play well enough defensively in the second half when the home team shot 53.8 percent.

Jones said LSU's game plan was to stop Sullivan, the SEC's second-leading scorer who was limited to 10 points. "We did an excellent job of doubling him, coming off screens," the coach said. "He only took 10 shots and made three of them so that is a good night defensively.

"They stepped up and made big plays tonight and Johnson stepped up and made big plays for them," Jones said of Auburn's freshman.

Starting Lineup: The Tigers opened with a three-guard lineup featuring seniors Frankie Sullivan and Josh Wallace along with freshman Shaquille Johnson. Senior Rob Chubb started at center with junior Allen Payne opening at forward.

Chubb: Barbee had praise for the senior center even though he didn't have a big scoring night. The coach said Chubb affected the game with his defensive presence in the middle. He finished the night with eight points, eight rebounds, one assist and one steal. In 27 minutes the center did not have a turnover.

Halftime Stats: LSU hit 12-31 field goals for 38.7 percent while Auburn 11-28 shots for 39.3 percent in the first 20 minutes. LSU hit 3-9 threes and 1-4 free throws. Auburn made 3-11 threes, 2-4 free throws.

LSU led in rebounds 20-17 at break and had six turnovers, one less than Auburn.

Allen Payne had 11 points, Rob Chubb and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum had four apiece, Brian Greene Jr. and Frankie Sullivan scored three apiece and Shaq Johnson added two points in the first half.

Worth Noting: Auburn ended a streak of five consecutive seasons in which the Tigers lost their SEC opener.

Physical Game: Both Payne and Johnson noted the game was a tough one. "This is the SEC," said Payne. "It is the most physical league there is. When you've got a guy out there like Johnny O'Bryant who is 6-9, 285 pounds it is going to get physical. It is going to be a battle like that every night. We are able to respond in a positive way and get ready to pull it. out."

Up Next: The Tigers return to action on Saturday with a 12:30 p.m. CST tipoff at South Carolina.

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