Rebels Visiting For Auburn's SEC Home Opener

Auburn will be looking to even its SEC basketball record at 1-1.

Auburn, Ala.--Following a roller coaster loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville on Wednesday night, the Auburn Tigers (9-3, 0-1) open the SEC home basketball season against Ole Miss (8-4, 0-1) in a matchup of two teams looking to get back on the winning track.

The Rebels enter the contest on a sour note after losing a late lead at home against rival Mississippi State in the conference opener for both on Wednesday.

A team that is relying on defense and the duo of Aaron Harper and Justin Reed to get them by this season until several newcomers grow up, the Rebels can deal opponents fits because of their style of play and aggressiveness on the court. That should be the case on Saturday as the Rebels' style on defense will be to pressure Auburn's guards, something that the Tigers have struggled with in losses to UNLV and Vanderbilt this season.

Coach Cliff Ellis said he always expects the best effort from a Rod Barnes coached team and this time should be no different. "Ole Miss is going to be Ole Miss whenever you play them," Ellis said. "It has always been the same throughout the ages. They are a team that is going to be very physical. Their defense is going to try to keep you from making passes. They'll have a lot of hands around the ball.

"Offensively, they've got two players that have been around a long time. Justin Reed can go inside, he can go outside, he hits foul shots, he rebounds. He has been very good in our league. He's very strong. This Ole Miss team is going to come in as all Ole Miss teams have done."

A powerful presence on the court, the dynamic Reed (6-8, 240, Sr.) leads the Rebels in scoring at 18 points per game and also pulls down a team-high 8.7 rebounds. He has scored over 20 points in half of his team's games this season and will be a key to the Rebels' inside game.

Outside the damage is done by Harper. A 6-7 forward who creates mismatch problems because of his ability to play on the perimeter, Harper is averaging 14.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game and scored 18 against Auburn last season on deadly outside shooting.

If Auburn can contain both Reed and Harper, the Tigers should be in good shape as the rest of the Rebels have had problems being consistent offensively. Forward Tommie Eddie (6-7, 260), a junior college transfer from Coffeyville, Kan., is third on the team at 6.6 points per game, but had 13 points and 12 rebounds against Mississippi State on Wednesday.

Rounding out the starting lineup are guards Todd Abernathy (6-1, 190, Fr.) and junior Justin Johnson (6-0, 200). The two combine to score just 11.5 points per game and dish out 4.7 assists between them.

Off the bench forward Kendrick Fox (6-7, 210, Jr.) has the ability to heat it up from the outside as does guard Ed Glass (6-2, 208, Jr.).

Just like Ole Miss, Auburn is searching for solid play from the guard position with junior forward Marco Killingsworth (6-7, 235) leading the way in the paint along with fellow junior Brandon Robinson (6-8, 215). Averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, Killingsworth is second in the SEC in shooting at 65 percent from the floor.

Brandon Robinson suffered an ankle sprain vs. Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.

Robinson's health could be a big factor as the speedy forward tries to make a recovery from an ankle injury suffered late in the game against the Commodores. Leading a valiant comeback effort with his play, a healthy Robinson would make a big difference to the Tiger attack and Killingsworth said that although the team didn't come away with a victory in Nashville they did leave with some confidence that they can get the job done in the future.

"That showed me a lot with our guards and the post too," Killingsworth said. "It showed a lot of character. I think if we were at the house we would have gotten the win, but we were on the road. We were down like 15 or 20 and we fought back. That showed a lot of character."

Improved guard play for a stretch of the second half was a big reason why the Tigers got back in the ball game. After struggling early to get the offense going, junior college guard Ian Young (6-3, 200) came on with a solid second half when he had all seven of his points.

Junior Nathan Watson (6-3, 200) continues to play solidly from the wing and has averaged 13 points in his last five contests. Adding depth are guards Troy Gaines, Quinnel Brown and Ronny LeMelle. LeMelle has made 12 of his last 16 three-pointers this season.

In the post, senior Kyle Davis (6-10, 235) should have some room to operate against the shorter Rebels and if he could improve on his 9.2 points per game scoring it would go a long way towards an Auburn victory.

If Davis needs a break, look for the Tigers to turn to true freshman Dewayne Curtis (6-9, 270) for playing time. Ellis said that the freshman is making progress and the coach is hoping to get more and more minutes out of the big freshman in the weeks to come.

"He's a big body and you need that in this league," Ellis said of Curtis. "As we saw (vs. Vandy) the game is so physical. As you get into the league the games are going to be physical. What we want him to do is learn the system everyday and give us some good minutes. He did that without hurting us and that's good."

Auburn has won five of the last six against the Rebels at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum and leads the overall series 65-41. Tip off for the game is scheduled for 3 p.m. and there is no television. After facing Ole Miss, Tigers will return to action Wednesday night when they take on South Carolina at home.

The Saturday game is Kids Day at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum with the first 2,000 fans receiving Charles Barkley Bobblehead Dolls and fans 17 and under can enter the coliseum at no charge as a guest of a fan with a ticket.

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