Freshmen Lead Tigers To SEC Tournament Victory

A trio of Auburn freshmen led the way as the Tigers defeated Vanderbilt in the opening round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome.

Atlanta, Ga.--Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo said earlier in the week that he was concerned about how his freshmen--Toney Douglas, Frank Tolbert and Daniel Hayles--would handle tournament play and the wide-open look of the Georgia Dome.

The trio answered the call Thursday in a 77-73 win over heavily-favored Vanderbilt with a combined 53 points and 16 rebounds. Douglas led the team with 23 points and 10 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes.

"He's an awfully good player," said Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings, whose team's NCAA Tournament bubble burst against the Tigers. "He's a good player. I don't know how to describe his potential because I don't get to see him every day. Coach Lebo would probably have a better answer for that, but he played well tonight."

A 21-point Auburn lead with 8:30 remaining in the game shrunk to four with 1:11 left to play. Douglas stepped to the free-throw line and calmly knocked down a pair of one-and-ones.

Jeff Lebo watches his freshmen play at the Georgia Dome.

On the other end of the court, Vanderbilt missed a shot and Douglas pulled down the defensive rebound and was fouled. Two more free throws later and the Tigers' lead was extended to eight with 51 seconds remaining.

None of Douglas' four free throws even hit the rim.

"I love pressure," he said. "I like to have the ball on the line."

Depth perception never was a problem for Douglas in the dome atmosphere as he hit 7-12 shots, 2-4 threes and 7-9 foul shots.

Neither Tolbert nor Hayles had problems shooting either. Tolbert connected on 4-6 shots from the floor, 5-6 free throws and finished with 14 points. Hayles made 3-5 shots for six points.

Tolbert, a virtual opposite of Douglas, also did the dirty work for the Tigers, diving on the court and coming up with loose ball after loose ball.

"Frank is an interesting freshman," Lebo said. "He's really improved from the beginning of the year to the end. He's lost a lot of weight (40 pounds). He's very athletic and he's starting to play above the rim. Frank is an exciting player."

Tolbert had five rebounds and two blocked shots, but his coach said that sometimes he needs to slow down a bit.

"Something good is going to happen when he has or it something bad is going to happen with he has it," Lebo said. "Something is going to happen, I can guarantee you that. We're trying to cut down on his bads. He's really improved. I started to see it from him in the middle of January when he started to do some really nice things. He still has to improve his decision making, but he's one guy on our team who can do things athletically that looks like he belongs athletically in this league."

Although Hayles' play didn't show in the individual stats, he battled inside at six-foot-five-inches tall at the power forward position and held the much-taller Commodores to 24-62 shooting for 38.7, compared to Auburn's 54.2 percent.

Auburn will play again Friday at approximately 8:45 p.m. CST against the LSU Tigers, who beat Auburn 90-69 in Baton Rouge and 77-64 in Auburn. The winner of that game will play the winner of Kentucky versus Tennessee on Saturday.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories