Near Trophy Victory For Lebo On Trophy Night

Auburn, Ala.--On trophy night in Auburn, the basketball Tigers fought, clawed and battled from behind but couldn't quite pull out a win against heavily-favored rival Alabama, falling 60-55.

After falling behind by as much as 15 points in the second half, back-to-back dunks by Nathan Watson and Quinnel Brown cut the Alabama lead to one with 2:23 remaining. However, solid Alabama defense and some clutch baskets by forward Chuck Davis were too much to overcome.

The loss dropped Auburn to 9-9 overall and 0-5 in SEC play. "It's one of those games that we have to put behind us...again," Watson said. "We battled hard. We played as hard as we could and that's what matters. I would have liked to get the win, but we played hard."

Despite the loss, Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo was happy with the effort also. "I am very proud of the kids and the effort they put forth today," Lebo said. "We fought against a Top 20 team. Through it all we battled with them on the glass, scored 32 points in the paint to 10, our bench scored 10 to their 0 and we scored 14 on the (fast) break to their 0.

"I told them after to the game to keep giving that effort and good things will happen," Lebo added. "I know they hurt right now though."

Lebo's team made just six turnovers in the game, eight less than the visitors.

Alabama had lost seven straight visits to Beard-Eaves from 1997-2003, but has now won the last two.

"It's good to win on the road when you don't feel like you played well," said Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried. "Offensively we never got into any kind of good flow at all. We had to play key minutes (late in the game) without (point guard) Ronald Steele in there. I like the fact that they made only four three-point baskets, which was a key."

With such a physical mismatch in the paint, Auburn coaches and players said going into the game that they needed to out-shoot the Tide from the three-point line to earn a win. However, it was the exact opposition Wednesday night.

Mainly due to a collapsing defense by Auburn, which double or triple-teamed in the post, Alabama was able to pass it back outside and knock down 11-22 threes.

Auburn, in contrast, was held to 4-17 from behind the three-point line.

"They made the right plays offensively," said senior Auburn point guard Ian Young. "Things didn't work out in our favor. Coming in we new we'd have to hit the three-ball with our size and everything. They did a good job of hitting the threes on their part."

Alabama's leading scorer on the year, Kennedy Winston, knocked down 4-4 threes. He has now made 15-23 in SEC play for an amazing 65 percent.

Alabama shooting guard Earnest Shelton hit 5-10 threes and had a game-high 22 points. Auburn's leading scorer, Toney Douglas, was held to nine points and five rebounds.

"We just challenged Earnest," Gottfried said. "He's a senior and Toney's a freshman. We put Earnest on him and challenged him and he did a good job. He's the SEC's leading scorer and Earnest held him to nine points."

Auburn held its own inside, being out-rebounded by only four, 37-33. The Tigers had 11 offensive rebounds to only 10 for Alabama.

Alabama center Jemareo Davidson had 14 rebounds to go with his six points.

Leading Auburn in scoring was Watson with 13, Young with 11 and Brown with 10.

Alabama got off to a good start in the first half. Thanks to a pair of threes by both Shelton and Winston, the Crimson Tide had a 26-13 lead and took a 31-22 halftime lead.

"We were zoning a lot in the first half and throwing a lot of junk defenses at them," Young said. "In the zone the corner spots are going to be open and they hit their shots."

The teams played even basketball for much of the second half before Steele got his fourth foul and the Tigers turned up the heat defensively.

"They're different without him (Steele) in there," Lebo said. "He's the motor that makes them go. He had some foul problems and they had to sub with a freshman who hasn't gotten as many minutes. When they subbed there we had a little bit of an advantage."

After the fast-break dunks by Watson and Brown, Davis was able to capitalize for Alabama on the offensive end. "I was just at the right place at the right time," he said. "I was able to knock down my free throws, too."

Auburn scored only three points in the final 2:22 of the game.

"We missed some easy shots during a stretch there where we need to get the crowd in the game," Lebo said. "We just didn't shoot the ball well at all. Alabama shot well. Shelton hit a couple of bombs and Winston hit a couple of tough ones."

At halftime of the game the Auburn football team received the James E. Foy Sportsmanship Trophy for the third year in a row after beating Alabama 21-13 in Tuscaloosa last November. One football player who wasn't present for the celebration was tight end Kyle Derozan.

Derozan was with the rest of the basketball team in the Auburn locker room after playing his first minutes of college basketball. He got in the game at the 11:36 mark in the first half. Derozan provided some quality playing time on the low post for Lebo, playing eight minutes, scoring a point on a free throw and pulling down three rebounds.

Kyle Derozan made his college hoops debut vs. the Tide.

"Kyle came in and did a good job for us," Lebo said. "He didn't know what he was doing all the time, but he's got a good savvy about him. You can tell he knows how to play and he understands the game. I don't know if he's going to be a difference maker for us, but he was able to give us eight good minutes tonight."

Derozan, who has been practicing basketball with his new teammates for less than two weeks, said he's looking forward to contributing more in the future.

"It feels good," he said. "I just want to help these guys. I love the game of basketball and I just want to do whatever I can to help these guys win. I grew up playing basketball and always wanted to play college basketball. It was tough getting adjusted to the speed of the game at first."

Quinnel Brown plays defense on Wednesday night vs. Alabama's Albert Weber.

The Tigers will return to action on home at 5 p.m. on Saturday vs. Tennessee in a game that will be regionally televised on Fox Sports Net.

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