Slumping Tigers Can't Handle Physical Bulldogs

Auburn's shooting struggles continued as the Tigers lost on Saturday at Georgia.

Athens, Ga.--Another poor offensive performance by the Auburn basketball team cost the Tigers Saturday at Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum.

Coach Jeff Lebo's squad hit just 17-54 shots from the floor and 1-17 on threes as the Tigers lost to the Bulldogs 57-45. The setback dropped the Tigers to 12-13 overall, the first time this season they have had a losing record.

Auburn's 43 points against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night and 45 against Georgia is the lowest in back-to-back games for the Tigers since 1951.

"We had a lot of good looks and we went 1-17 for three," Lebo said. "We missed a gazillion shots in the paint like we did against Vanderbilt around the basket area that couldn't go for us. Toney (freshman guard Toney Douglas) struggled and Ian (senior guard Ian Young) struggled from the three-point line. When those two guys struggle, we struggle. The physical nature of the game bothered Toney more than anybody else."

Young was second on the team in scoring with 13 points, but made only 6-18 shots and failed to get to the foul line where he's at his best. Douglas, who scored only five points against Vanderbilt, had four points on 1-9 shooting.

"Our goal was to hold them under 50 points," said Georgia coach Dennis Felton. "We did a terrific job of pressuring them. Auburn passed the ball really well to each other, but we succeeded because we were persistent"

The loss dropped Auburn to 3-9 in SEC play. Saturday's win for the Bulldogs was only their second of the year in conference play as they improved to 8-15 overall and 2-10 in the league.

Despite Georgia's record, the Bulldogs had a reputation for being rugged on the defensive end of the court and that hampered the Tigers offensively.

"They're a very physical team and they bothered us with that," Lebo said. "They got to the line 29 times and scored 19 points on the free throw line. We talked about not fouling them because they have a hard time scoring without getting the open looks at the basket from the foul line. We put them on the foul line way too much to be in the game, and we didn't get to the foul line ourselves."

When the Tigers did get to the foul line, they didn't shoot as well as they usually do, hitting just 10-18 free throws for 55.6 percent.

Douglas fouled out for Auburn and Quinnel Brown, Daniel Hayles and Frank Tolbert finished with four fouls. While the physical play of the Bulldogs bothered many of the Tigers, Tolbert said after the game that it was something he was looking forward to playing against. "I was psyched for it because I'm a real physical person, too," he said.

Tolbert's 16 points--14 of which came in the second half--was the only bright spot offensively for the Tigers. After falling behind 35-21 early in the second half, Tolbert almost brought the Tigers back as he sparked a comeback.

"I feel like I should have started scoring a little earlier," the freshman said. "I had to work myself into the game and as it went on I started to heat up a little bit."

With Brown and Hayles on the bench in foul trouble, Tolbert was forced into playing power forward and was matched up against 6-9 Steve Newman. That match-up caused problems for Georgia defensively as Tolbert penetrated on Georgia's man-to-man several times down the stretch.

"It was a coaching decision and part of the flow of the game to get me isolated," Tolbert said. "I realized that I had a big man on me and I could take him. I got the ball and I did what I did."

Tolbert scored nine points in a five-minute stretch to cut the Tigers' deficit to three points at 42-39, but that's as close at Auburn could get.

The game got off to a slow start for both teams offensively. The Tigers and Bulldogs were getting good looks at the basket, but almost nobody for either team could make a shot. With 8:36 remaining in the first half, the score was Georgia 7, Auburn 4.

Felton got an early lift from an unlikely source--guard Levi Stukes, who was said to be out for the season with an ankle injury. Stukes came off the bench and got things going for the Bulldogs by knocking down a pair of three pointers.

"I wasn't expecting him, but we had watched some film with him in the game," Lebo said of Stukes. "He was the difference-maker and obviously their best player. He showed why today. He comes in today and makes the three-point shots and scores 15 points and was a big lift for them."

Stukes, who made eight threes against Auburn in last year's SEC tournament, led the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points in only 26 minutes. He made 4-7 threes and 3-4 foul shots.

After shooting 3-26 for 17 points in the second half of the game against Vanderbilt the Tigers made just 6-25 shots, 0-10 on threes, for 14 points in the first half. Many of the missed shots were on open looks.

Young and Douglas, who combined to make 1-20 shots from the floor against Vanderbilt, made only 3-14 shots in the first half against Georgia. The backcourt duo tied to lead the Tigers with four points in the first 20 minutes.

Following Tolbert's 16 points and six rebounds, Young was the second leading scorer for Auburn with 13 points plus six rebounds.

Brown, who took just five shots, finished with five points and five rebounds.

Auburn had only five assists as a team while turning the ball over a dozen times to 17 for UGA. Auburn scored only 11 points off the UGA turnovers.

Auburn shot 31.5 percent from the field. Georgia wasn't a lot better, making 37.2 percent of its shots.

At only six-foot-one, Georgia's Sundiata Gaines had 14 points and 12 rebounds against the Tigers. Newman had 13 points and four rebounds.

The Bulldogs out-rebounded the Tigers 40-36.

The Tigers are on the road again Wednesday for their fourth road trip in five games when they face the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on JP Sports.

Auburn returns home on Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. against LSU, which beat Auburn 90-69 in Baton Rouge on Feb. 9.

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