Lebo Looking for Improvement in Opener

Auburn head men's basketball coach Jeff Lebo discusses his team as the Tigers prepare to open the regular season this week.

Auburn, Ala.--Despite a lopsided win in their exhibition game, Coach Jeff Lebo says his Auburn basketball Tigers need to improve before being ready for Friday night's regular season opener.

The Tigers will take on Missouri State at 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum this Friday, a week after their 98-50 exhibition win over Morehouse College.

"We show signs here and there," Lebo tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "Offensively, our execution needs to get a lot better. We need to be able to score inside around the bucket with a guy on our back. We need to do that consistently enough to have to be defended so that they just can't play behind us.

"I think defensively, at times, we can be pretty good," Lebo says. "We have got to get our minutes down to play as hard defensively as we need to play.

"We need to have our post guys play better than they did in the exhibition game," the coach adds. "I thought they were just average in that game. Morehouse had three guys who were big, heavy guys, but their skill level wasn't what we are going to see on Friday."

Missouri State of the Missouri Valley Conference comes into the game after defeating East Central Oklahoma, a Division II team, 103-73 on Monday night in an exhibition game. Chris Cooks, a 6-4 senior forward, led the Bears with 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Missouri State, which has had a strong program for many years, returns three starters and three other lettermen from a 17-16 team.

Lebo says Auburn's opening night opening is likely to run a motion offense with a new head coach this year and a key will be to defend all five players because even the post players can shoot from the perimeter.

The Auburn coach says protecting the basketball will be important, too.

Tay Waller, a 6-2 junior guard, led Auburn in its exhibition win with 27 points vs. Morehouse.

"We did a good job with turnovers in the exhibition game," Lebo says. "I think that is going to be an issue for us, especially in the halfcourt. We need to do a better job with our decision-making more than anything offensively with the ball, especially from our backcourt players.

"Good guards are two-to-one with their assist to turnover ratio and last year DeWayne Reed was one-to-one," Lebo says of the junior. "That is an area where we have to get better."

Lucas Hargrove shoots in the 2008 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament.

Lebo notes that he wants to see another junior improve. "We are trying to get Lucas Hargrove better as we try to make the adjustment with him playing three (small forward) and four (power forward)," the coach says. "Those are two different positions. He has been okay at it, but as the year goes along I think he will be better at both."

Something Lebo says he liked in the exhibition game was his team's unselfish style of play. "We pass the ball pretty well," he says. "I think we made the extra pass in the exhibition game and I liked that. We delivered the pass to the open guy. We stress that a bunch so hopefully that will continue when the season starts."

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