Defense Leads Auburn Past A&M

Auburn, Ala.--Strong defense in the first half sparked the Auburn Tigers to a 67-56 men's basketball victory over Alabama A&M on Saturday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

The Tigers led 33-14 at halftime and they stretched the margin to 25 points less than four minutes into the second half on a basket and a free throw by Quan Prowell. After that the home team appeared to lose its focus and coasted home with an 11-point victory.

Auburn improved to 7-2 while the Bulldogs fell to 3-6 in the first ever men's basketball game between Auburn and Alabama A&M.

"We just have to learn as players and as a team, when you have got teams up you have to learn how to step on them," said Rasheem Barrett, who was Auburn's second leading scorer with 12 points. "That is what good teams do."

Barrett used almost the identical words in describing Auburn's last outing, a victory over Southern University a week earlier in a game the Tigers won by eight points in Mobile.

Korvotney Barber led the Tigers in scoring with 19 points. He added four rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal playing against 6-11 Mickell Gladness, the nation's second-leading shot blocker, who picked up six more vs. the Tigers.

Gladness rejected several of Barber's shots early in the game, but that didn't bother the Auburn junior even though he said that Gladness is the best shot blocker he has ever faced. "It never really worried me a lot," Barber noted. "I just said I was going to keep taking it to him."

Korvotney Barber has been AU's top performer so far this season.

For the game Barber made 7-11 field goals for an Auburn team that has generally shot well from the field all season. That was the case vs. the Bulldogs as Auburn made 50 percent of its field goals while holding Alabama A&M to 35.5 from the field.

The Tigers, who entered the game as the worst free throw shooting team in the country in Division I basketball, even helped themselves at the foul line making 11-15 including 5-8 from Barber, who has been AU's number one offender at the free throw line the past three seasons.

The Tigers got nine points from Frank Tolbert and Matt Heramb, the sophomore forward who gave his team a spark off the bench. "Matt gave us a nice lift, especially in the first half," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said.

"The first half defensively we were awfully good," Lebo said. "The second half we kind of went through the motions a little bit. They made some shots the second half and we missed some shots."

Lebo said fatigue likely was a factor why the Tigers played better in the first half. "Our concentration level needs to get higher, especially in the second half," the coach said.

The game got off to a slow offensive start for both teams. The Tigers didn't score from the field until five minutes into the contest when Barrett nailed a three from the corner to put the Tigers ahead 8-7. Prior to that, all of Auburn's points had come on Barber free throws.

After a basket by John Smith at the 14:03 mark put the Bulldogs on top 9-8, the Tigers started a 20-0 run on a fast break stuff by Heramb., who also hit a three and scored another basket inside on the run as well as blocking a shot and making steal.

Sophomore forward Matt Heramb played well in AU's first half run.

The Tigers built the lead to 28-9 with 7:39 in the first half before Alabama A&M scored again with 5:38 left to play.

The visitors shot just 20.7 percent from the field in the first half, but rebounded to make 48.5 percent in the second half to prevent a blowout.

"You can't shoot it any worse than we shot it in the first half," Alabama A&M coach Vann Pettaway said. "At halftime we didn't make any adjustments, we just talked about playing with confidence, playing with poise and not rushing our shots."

Pettaway said he was impressed with the way the Tigers played defensively, especially the intensity on defense early in the game. "Auburn's defensive pressure in the first half had a lot to do with happened to us," he said. "They did not let us run our sets."

Guard Evan Hilton led the Bulldogs with 18 points and another guard, Simpson Trant, scored 17.

Alabama A&M outrebounded AU 36-34 and both teams turned the ball over 15 times. Auburn was 6-17 on threes while the visitors made 7-21.

Basketball Notes: The Tigers will get a break for Christmas and reassemble on campus on the night of the 26th for practice. Next on the schedule is a home game next Saturday at 1 p.m. vs. Towson...Prowell got his first start of the season taking the place of DeWayne Reed, who showed up nine minutes late for a pre-game meeting, Lebo said...The Tigers finished the game with nine steals, with three from Reed. Eight of the steals came in the first half. "We choked down off of the non-shooters and got some deflections and got some steals," Lebo said. "That was helpful. In the first half they had 14 points. We did a pretty good job. The second half they started making some shots on us. We had some breakdowns of on-the-ball "D" that hurt us. Offensively, we had some open looks to put the game away, we just didn't make them."..The crowd was announced as 3,785, but there didn't appear to be that many fans in the seats.

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