Opening Night: Lebo's Tigers Play for Keeps

Auburn, Ala.--After a pair of less than impressive exhibition outings, Jeff Lebo's Tigers will take the court to play games that count starting with the Friday night home opener vs. the Troy Trojans.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum for just the 10th ever men's basketball game matching the Tigers and Trojans. Auburn leads the series 9-0 with the last meeting a 94-66 win at the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico in December 2002 that featured a 38-point performance by Marquies Daniels.

The Tigers are down to eight healthy scholarship players available for action with six being guards. The fact that Auburn has had trouble shooting the ball as well as trouble with turnovers is a red flag to the head coach as the Tigers get ready for the first of 20 regular season home games.

"We had just way too many turnovers and bad shots and we are not a good enough team (to do that)," Lebo says. "We have struggled to shoot the ball, which concerns me immensely because we are a perimeter team. We have struggled handling the ball, which concerns me with a lot of guards. I do have concerns early about our decision-making at the guard spot."

With inside players Josh Dollard and Quan Prowell sidelined with suspensions, at times in the exhibition season the Tigers have gone with a lineup that features five guards."

The Trojans, who were 14-15 last year, are expected to start a lineup with four former junior college players and a transfer.

The leading returner starter for Troy is 6-7, 245 senior forward Cedric Jackson, who averaged 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds last year for Troy. Sammy Sharp, a 6-7, 200 senior forward, averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.

The transfer is 6-5 senior guard Richard Chaney from Los Angeles, who started 31 games for the University of Utah two seasons ago and was an All-WAC Tournament Team member. The other two starters are junior guards. Jerome Oden is 6-1, 155 and O'Darien Bassett is 6-2, 182.

Auburn is expected to go with its same starting lineup from the exhibition games with 6-7 sophomore forward Korvotney Barber surrounded by guards Frank Tolbert, Archie Miaway, Rasheem Barrett and Quantez Robertson.

Korvotney Barber is shown in action in Auburn's exhibition victory over Faulkner University.

The Tigers will need more production off the bench from a trio of true freshmen--6-9 forward Matt Heramb, 6-1 guard DeWayne Reed and 6-6 guard/forward Lucas Hargrove. That group combined for just five points and six rebounds in Auburn's 69-64 exhibition loss to AUM on Tuesday night.

Against AUM the Tigers were led by 21 points and 10 rebounds from Tolbert. Barber scored 16 points and had six rebounds while Miaway added 11 points and Barrett scored 10 points.

Tolbert says that losing unexpectedly to an NAIA team, AUM, hasn't been any different to him and his teammates than any other loss. "It doesn't matter who you play, you don't like to lose," he says. "It doesn't matter to me how many points I score or how many rebounds I have if we lose. I would be happy not scoring at all if we win. We just have to learn from that game, put it behind us and play better against Troy."

Lebo has praise for the way AUM played, but also says that the Tigers didn't run their normal offensive and defensive looks to prevent teams they will play in the regular season from getting a good scouting report on the Tigers. "Part of that was me," he says. "I didn't do anything in the exhibition. We just played. We didn't run any plays. We didn't show any defenses. We didn't do any of that. We didn't play the way we are going to play. That was me.

"We didn't play well either," Lebo adds. "We still turned it over 26 times and didn't execute at times. Defensively, we were actually better. Offensively, we were horrendous with turnovers."

Basketball Notes: Auburn is 27-11 all-time vs. members of the Sun Belt Conference, which is Troy's league...In Dec. 1991 Troy and Auburn played a game that set nine Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum records. Auburn won the contest 141-116 as the Tigers set school highs for most points scored in a game, a half (78), most field goals made (55) and most assists (33)...Lebo is 2-0 in openers at Auburn with victories at Temple (80-78) and at home last year vs. David Lipscomb (69-54)...Coach Don Maestri has a 411-277 record in 25 seasons at Troy. He is 0-4 vs. the Tigers and has never coached against Lebo...AU's all-time record in home openers is 73-21...Guard Kelvin Lewis, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot in preseason, is not expected back in action until sometime in December...Nell Fortner's Auburn women's team also opens tonight. The Tigers play at Western Carolina with tipoff set for 6 p.m. CST. DeWanna Bonner, a 6-4 sophomore forward who suffered a broken nose in the exhibition game blowout of Tuskegee University, is scheduled to start while wearing a protective mask. Other starters are expected to be 6-2 junior center Alexis Ogubie, 5-9 sophomore guard Whitney Boddie, 5-11 sophomore guard Shererll Hobbs and 5-9 junior guard Tamela McCorvey.

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