For a second straight game, look for Auburn to start four freshmen when the Tigers face visiting Ole Miss at 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
The Rebels are 18-6 overall and 7-4 in SEC basketball competition. Auburn is 10-11 overall and 2-8 in the conference.
In Auburn's 75-72 victory over Jim Harrick's rude dawgs from Georgia, the Tigers gained some confidence but lost their tallest player for one game. Kyle Davis will be watching the Ole Miss game from the sidelines because of a suspension when he and Georgia forward Steve Thomas were ejected from Saturday's game after mixing it up inside during a blockout situation under the Auburn basket.
Kyle Davis cannot play against the Rebels.
Against UGA, Ellis substituted all five of his starters at once like a hockey coach ordering a line change, however, with Mack McGadney gone for the year with injuries, the Tiger coach would have to use walk-on Donnie Calton to employ that strategy against the Rebels. Ellis says that Calton could play a couple of minutes, but he is looking for increased playing time from the other big men to help carry part of the load that Davis shoulders during his average stint of 20 minutes of action per game.
Freshman Marco Killingsworth and Brandon Robinson are scheduled to start at the forward spots. They will be joined in a three-guard lineup by freshmen Dwayne Mitchell and Lewis Monroe playing with junior Derrick Bird. Ellis says he has to go back to 1977 when he was head coach at South Alabama to find another occasion when he started four freshmen. Those four frosh provided the foundation for three straight 20-victory seasons on the hardwood.
Prior to Saturday's game, the last time an Auburn team went with four freshmen starters was February 1975 when Coach Bob Davis started a trio of future NBA players in center Mike Mitchell, guard Stan Pietkiewicz and center Myles Patrick along with guard Wayne Bracy. The Tigers upset eighth-ranked Tennessee in that game when the Vols had to play without half of their Ernie (Grunfeld) and Bernie Show duo. Bernard King, a future NBA player himself, was held out of the game due to questions concerning his eligibility.
In addition to the four scholarship freshmen moving into key roles, a walk-on freshman could also see prime time action after playing well against the Bulldogs. With Lincoln Glass dismissed from the team last week, that opened the door for playing time for Nathan Watson, a guard who is from Fort Payne. He gives the Tigers a much-needed three-point shooting threat.
Nathan Watson is taking a bigger role late in his freshman season.
Although the freshmen sparked the victory against Georgia, older players had key roles off the bench. "I think they are responding pretty well," Ellis said of the players who lost their starting jobs such as Marquis Daniels and Adam Harrington. "I think they realize that these guys have earned that respect and I thought Adam played pretty well the other day. That is how you judge response. How did they respond? And they responded pretty well, And, they did a good job at Arkansas." Auburn lost 62-60 at Arkansas prior to ending its six-game losing streak vs. Georgia.
The Ole Miss Rebels won the first meeting this year vs. the Tigers, taking a 69-65 decision in Oxford. Coach Rod Barnes' team broke out of a two-game slump with a 79-67 victory over Arkansas as 6-5 sophomore forward Aaron Harper pumped in a career-best 25 points. He is one of four starters who average double figures in scoring with his numbers of 11.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per outing.
The leading scorer for the Rebels is 6-8 sophomore Justin Reed, who averages 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. David Sanders, a 6-3 guard, is scoring 11.3 points per outing to go with 4.4 rebounds.
The last and least in size of the double figures scorers is point guard Jason Harrison, who is liberally listed as five-feet-five inches, 155 pounds. He is producing 10.3 points per game and 4.0 assists.
The fifth starter, 6-8, 225 center Derrick Allen, from Gadsden, Ala., via Southern Union Community College in Wadley, Ala., is averaging 9.9 points and a team-best 6.6 rebounds per contest.
"Justin Reed inside is playing strong for them," Ellis says. "They shoot the ball very well with that inside/outside presence, that makes them a strong team. That is why they are sitting in the position they are sitting in. We have a tough ball game. We know we have to play a game like we played Saturday to win."
Auburn's Killingsworth says the Tigers will be ready for the rematch. "We have got something to give them because they beat us last time down there. We are going to beat them this time, for sure. For sure."
Killingsworth says the victory over Georgia was just what the Tigers needed. "The win boosted our confidence up a whole lot. We are going try to take this win and run with it because Georgia is the No. 17 team in the nation."
Auburn leads the series with Ole Miss by an 62-41 margin. The Tigers have a 41-8 advantage in games played in Auburn.