Tolbert, a freshman guard from Red Level High, put on a show in 25 minutes off the bench. He scored a game-high 21 points and led the Tigers in rebounds with eight. He also contributed two steals, one assist and lots of hustle as he hit eight of 11 field goals.
"I think a lot people will find that Auburn is a little tougher to beat than you think they will be because Jeff (Lebo) has done a nice job of coaching to his personnel," Furman coach Larry Davis said. He and Lebo used to match wits when Lebo was at Chattanooga.
Auburn used its quickness to force 25 turnovers to finish with a plus 12 margin in that category, which was more than enough to offset a 38-33 rebounding edge the taller visitors enjoyed.
"They are a little bit difficult to prepare for because four of their five can really shoot the three," Davis said. "You have got to really stretch to them. We felt like the best way was to switch screens on them and it did work, but they got us more on postups and transitions."
The Tigers were solid from three-point range, hitting 8-18 shots, but did most of their damage closer to the basket. Auburn hit 19 of 37 fields inside the arc and finished the game shooting 49.1 percent to 45.6 percent for the visitors to the delight of a sparse crowd of 3,100 at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
Brown scored 19 points for the Tigers and played strong post defense. Freshman forward Daniel Hayles added 15 points and another freshman, Toney Douglas, contributed nine points and six rebounds.
Freshman Frank Tolbert drives to the basket vs. Furman.
Brown, a senior, said he is not surprised at how the freshmen are playing. "I knew they weren't going to play like freshmen coming out," he said. "All three are really aggressive. I knew they were going to be all right."
Ian Young, the SEC Player of the Week for his performance vs. Temple on Friday, added 13 points, six assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes of court time. "With our size, and our lack of depth, we can't turn the ball over," Young said. "Every possession we try to take care of the ball. We don't want the other team to get in there and get easy buckets because we are already at a disadvantage.
Tolbert was surprised that he was the leading scorer. "I didn't even realize I had 21 points," he said. "My teammates told me to just slow down and try to let the game come to me."
Auburn took control early, scoring 11 points before the Paladins got on the scoreboard at the 14:54 mark as the Tigers forced six early turnovers. Using crisp ball movement to score from the perimeter and inside, the Tigers stretched their margin to 27-13 at the 10:08 mark as Quinnel Brown hit one of two free throws.
Five minutes later the margin was down to six at 33-27 on a layup by Robby Bostain, a 6-3 guard who scored 10 first half points for Furman. The Paladins caught the Tigers at the 2:23 mark on a pair of free throws and pulled ahead 37-35, but the Tigers managed to go into the locker room with a 38-37 edge.
The visitors stayed close in the first half despite sloppy ball handling. The Paladins were minus eight at the break in turnover margin with 14. They made up for it by hitting five of seven treys and 10-10 foul shots. In the first half the Paladins shot 45.8 percent to 46.2 for the Tigers, who were 3-8 on threes and 11-18 at the free throw line. The Paladins used their height advantage to take a 19-12 rebounding lead after 20 minutes of play.
The Tigers went on the attack early in the second half and pushed their lead back into double figures doing much of their damage inside. Brown and freshman Daniel Hayles used their superior quickness to post up inside against the taller Paladins.
A left-handed layup by Brown with 12:27 put the Tigers up 58-48. Then midway through the second half, Tolbert got into a shooting rhythm, scoring threes from the wing and posting inside for points. He scored nine of of 11 points in a Tiger run that stretched the lead to 57.
"They did some things against us to keep us from getting looks on the perimeter," Auburn's Lebo said. "They did a lot of switching, a lot of spreading out. We had to go inside some, which is surprising. Q and Daniel Hayles got some good looks around the basket."
The Tigers built the lead to 19 on an acrobatic layup by Tolbert prompting Lebo to pull the starters. However, with 1:22 still remaining and the lead down to 80-69 the coach put the front-liners back on the court and they stopped the bleeding as the Tigers defeated the Southern Conference team by a final margin of 85-74.
"We beat a good basketball team," Lebo said. "That team had Ohio State beat last year. I know a lot about them. They are tough and well-coached. They have got experienced players. It was a good win for us."
Quan Prowell, a 6-8 sophomore forward out of Jordan High in Columbus, Ga., led the Paladins with 19 points. He was the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year last season.
The Tigers return to action on Wednesday night with a 7 p.m. home game vs. Nicholls State. On Saturday, the Tigers play a 1 p.m. home game vs. Louisiana Tech.