Tigers Ambush Rebs After Lebo's Halftime Talk

Auburn rallied from a nine-point deficit with 10 minutes remaining to get its second SEC win of the season.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers (10-10 overall, 2-7 SEC) turned up the intensity and overcame a 14-point first half deficit against Ole Miss (13-9 overall, 3-6 SEC) to knock off the Rebels 58-50 Wednesday night.

The Tigers played an unemotional first half and didn't play particularly well during the part of the second half either as they found themselves down 42-33 with just over 10 minutes remaining.

"We came out in the first half lackadaisical and Coach challenged at halftime," said Auburn's Ronny LeMelle, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. "He got into us and challenged us after that.

"He challenged everybody on the team because he said we were playing selfish in the first half. We came out, played as a team and got good results."

Auburn out-scored the Rebels 25-8 down the stretch started by the only basket of the night on a left-handed finger roll from Frank Tolbert. He then stole the ball out of the press and dished to LeMelle for an easy two.

Following an Ole Miss basket after breaking the Auburn press, LeMelle sank a three from the corner that hit the rim and banked off the backboard before falling through.

LeMelle added another two points off a pass from Tolbert and Auburn had cut the deficit to two at 42-44. The lead went back and forth for the next few minutes before Moses Edun came up with a loose ball and passed to a wide open LeMelle for another three-point basket and Auburn held a 52-50 advantage with 3:36 to play.

Going against Auburn's 1-3-1 zone defense the Rebels failed to score again. Auburn hit its free throws down the stretch and held on for the 58-50 victory.

"That was nice, finally, to make a few (important free throws)," Lebo said.

LeMelle and Tolbert said after the game that it was Lebo's halftime speech that got the intensity going as the Tigers forced 23 turnovers.

"I can't say it," Tolbert said when asked exactly what Lebo told the Tigers. "A bunch of bad words. I'll put it that way. It helped us. I don't know what was wrong with us in the first half. We came out so non-energized."

Lebo wouldn't repeat what he had told his team.

"That was not a PG-rated halftime," he noted. "I thought the second half we had a lot more energy. The first half was just horrendous. I really thought when we went little in the last couple of minutes it got us back into the game. I told the team Brett Howell and Moses Edun get game balls.

"I thought in the second half defensively we were awfully good," Lebo added. "We scored 35 points in the second half, which may be close to a record in SEC play for us. It was good for the kids and it was a total team win for us."

Ole Miss shot a solid 45.9 percent, but had more turnovers (23) than field goals made (17).

"Turnovers have been our Achilles heel and it was that way again tonight," said Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes.

Rebel center Dwayne Curtis, who played at Auburn during the 2003-2004 season, has developed into a good basketball player, but had an SEC season low point total of seven points with only five rebounds.

"I thought we did a great job on Curtis," Lebo said. "He really wasn't a big factor in the game and he's a load down in there. That was really a key to the game. Our zone was good. They had trouble against our extended zone."

When former coach Cliff Ellis was fired from Auburn, Curtis followed assistant coach Tracy Dildy to Ole Miss.

"It was just another SEC game," Curtis said of his return to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Point guard Todd Abernathy led Ole Miss in scoring with 10 while adding six boards and four assists, but hard a difficult time quarterbacking his offense into good shots.

Auburn won the rebounding battle only 30-25, but got 15 defensive rebounds off only 20 Ole Miss misses. The Tigers also got 15 offensive boards, compared to eight by the Rebels.

Auburn's second leading scorers were Quantez Robertson and an unlikely source, Brett Howell, who both scored nine. Thirteen of LeMelle's 18 came in the second half.

Ronny LeMelle played aggressively on the offensive end and led the Tigers to victory.

"We need to have him score for us," Lebo said of his lone senior. "We struggle to put the ball in the basket so he's got to be very aggressive on the offensive end, which he was. I talked to him before last game and we need him to do a lot of things for us. Scoring is a big part of it this year."

The Tigers got on the board first in the game with a baby hook from Josh Dollard, but then went 6:40 of action without hitting another field goal. Fortunately for the Tigers, Ole Miss had a tough time scoring as well and Howell hit a three from the top of the key to tie the game at six with 13 minutes remaining in the half.

Ole Miss's Clarence Sanders and Howell traded threes to knot the score at nine, but Auburn went through another long stretch with very few points. Ole Miss went on an 11-point run capped by a five-point play. Trey Hampton threw down a dunk over Daniel Hayles and drew the foul. He hit the free throw and Korvotney Barber was whistled for another Tiger foul while the ball was in the air. Sanders hit both of his free throws and suddenly the Rebels were ahead 29-15 with 2:05 remaining.

It appeared the Rebels were about to pull away, but that's when the Tigers fought back. Robertson scored Auburn's first points in four minutes of action with a pair of free throws. Jermey Parnell missed a dunk at the other end and Howell buried his third three of the half for the Tigers.

After an offensive foul by Curtis, Hayles made a nice cross-over, left his man at the elbow and hit a lay-up. Sanders then turned it over for Ole Miss and Auburn had a chance to hold for the last shot. Rasheem Barrett drove to the goal with just seconds left and missed a lay-up which would have cut the gap to four.

"The one thing I did tell them (at halftime that I can repeat) is that they couldn't have beaten a bad JV team in the first half," Lebo said. "We were only down six because we made a couple of plays at the end of the half."

However, the eight points in a 1:02 span put Auburn back in the game and cut the Ole Miss advantage to 29-23 at halftime.

Robertson hit a lay-up to begin the second half, but the Tigers went cold again scoring only eight points in the next 10 minutes. The Rebels led 42-33, but Auburn turned up the intensity and went on a run of its own.

Edun came off the bench with energy as Auburn's press forced Ole Miss turnovers as the Tigers outscored the Rebels 25-8 the rest of the way. The walk-on got a big ovation from the crowd of 3,723 who got low down the stretch run after having little to cheer about much of the evening.

Auburn's next game is at Arkansas on Saturday at 7 p.m.

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