Tigers Warm Up and Torch the Tide

On a cold Saturday in Auburn, the Tigers got hot shooting the basketball as they continued their recent success vs. Alabama.

Auburn, Ala.--Alabama had no answer for the Auburn offense on Saturday as the Tigers cruised to an 85-71 SEC men's basketball victory over the visiting Tide at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Auburn's offense, which had produced 68 points in cold-shooting losses to South Carolina and Florida, was significantly hotter as the Tigers hit 49.2 percent from the field while nailing 10-20 three-pointers. In the first two SEC games, Auburn had averaged just 37.9 percent from the field and had made just 22.9 percent of its threes.

Tay Waller led the charge for the Tigers, who had a season-high point total, two better than in a win over George Washington back in November. The junior guard scored 22 points. He hit 6-8 three-pointers and set the tone for the game early with his long-range bombs. Waller's point total matched his best of the season.

DeWayne Reed scored 19 points for the Tigers and had three of Auburn's 13 steals. He made 2-3 of his threes.

Auburn finished the contest with 22 assists and 14 turnovers, a testament to good teamwork for Coach Jeff Lebo's Tigers, who forced 20 Tide turnovers vs. an opponent that turned the ball over 20 times.

"Our guards played good defense," said Auburn senior forward Korvotney Barber in explaining the Tide turnovers. "Our full-court press, we are real good at that," added Barber, who scored 18 points, added nine rebounds and had four assists, two blocks and no turnovers in 29 minutes of action.

The Tigers also got 12 points from Rasheem Barrett, who made his first start of the season in place of Lucas Hargrove, who scored four points and added four rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. Barrett hit 5-11 field goals and finished the game with 12 points and three rebounds in 24 minutes of playing time.

"He's been better," Lebo said of Barrett, who is still trying to get back to full speed physically after having two injuries. "He is still trying to learn two positions. I started him at the four (power forward), which is a new position for him. He is a hard matchup against another big guy. I think he is starting to find his niche.

"He is starting to get in playing shape," Lebo added. "He was pressing a little bit early, I think, when he came back. He wanted to do so much so quickly and he just wasn't ready to do that."

The victory for the Tigers was the fourth in the last five matchups vs. Alabama. Asked about that, the Auburn coach said, "We have made strides, there is no doubt. We have had some curve balls along the way, some tough curve balls, but the kids have battled hard. I like my team. We have been fortunate the last couple of times to play them to play very well. We are happy about that."

Tide coach Mark Gottfried, whose team now has an identical record to Auburn at 11-6 overall and 1-2 in the SEC, said, "You have to give them credit. I thought they shot the ball extremely well, especially early in the game. They made some tough shots and they made a lot of them.

"I do think we could have defended them better," Gottfried added. "At the same time, they had one of those games where I thought they were nearly flawless. They did everything well and we seemed to be out of sync, struggled, and that happens sometimes."

Tay Waller nails one of his six three-pointers.

Alabama scored first, but the early action was dominated by the Tigers.

Waller hit the first of his four first-half three-pointers two minutes into the action to build Auburn's lead to 10-4.

The Tigers jumped the lead to 20-6 with an unusual seven-point trip down the court. DeWayne Reed stole the ball and was going in for a layup when he was intentionally fouled by Mikhail Torrance. Reed steered the shot in with two hands and then made two free throws for the technical foul. Auburn got the ball back and Frankie Sullivan nailed a three-pointer from the wing with 15:41 in the first half.

"They are a great defensive team," Torrance said of the Tigers. "We kind of struggled when they trapped us. I feel like some of that was my fault. I feel like I need to be more poised and step through the trap and find an open teammate."

The Tigers built the lead to 23-6 on another three by Waller, but the Tide chipped into the lead the rest of the half and trailed just 42-35 at intermission.

In the first half the Tigers shot 40.6 percent from the field making 13-32 shots while Alabama was an even 50.0 percent hitting 13-26 field goals. The difference was the Tigers making 6-11 threes while Alabama was 0-2 on threes.

Auburn hit 10-13 first half free throws while Alabama made 9-10. The Tide held a 19-15 first half edge in rebounds. Auburn had seven first half turnovers, five less than than the Tide which had the ball stolen by the Tigers seven times.

Alabama cut the lead to five early in the second half, but the Tigers responded with a 7-0 run to regain control of the contest. A basket by Barber at the 19:19 mark got the run started. Waller scored on a layup, Barber hit a foul shot and added two more points on a monster two-handed jam and the Tigers were up 49-37 at the 18:20 mark.

Korvotney Barber throws down a dunk vs. the Tide.

The lead ballooned to 22 with a layup by Reed followed by a free throw by the guard at the 15:26 mark to make the score 61-39.

Alabama kept the game from being a blowout by getting to the foul line frequently. The Tide made 23-28 free throws while the Tigers hit 15-21 at the foul line.

Commenting on his team's strong start to the second half, Lebo said, "It was gigantic. We knew they would make a run in the second half. I thought the first five minutes, and really to the 10-minute mark, I thought our energy was good, especially defensively. The crowd got into the game, nothing was easy for them, and they turned it over and we converted.

"They had a lot of live-ball turnovers that we converted on," Lebo said. "We want to stay away from those where they can pick them up and a turnover that leads to numbers on the other end. If you throw it out of bounds, or if you kick it out bounds, at least you have a chance to set your defense."

Lebo said Auburn's guards were "active and quick" and got their hands on a lot of balls to the delight of a crowd of 8,788 at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Tide guard Senario Hillman turned the ball over seven times and Bama's leading scorer, Mikhail Torrance, had six turnovers to go with his game-high 24 points. The Tide got 10 points apiece from JaMychal Green, Justin Knox and Alonzo Gee.

The Tide had a solid shooting game from the field, making 46.9 percent of its 49 field goals, but Auburn got off 12 more field goal attempts and nine more threes than the Tide, which was just 2-11 behind the three-point line.

Auburn shot 58.6 percent in the second half to preserve the victory while the Tide shot 43.5 percent after halftime.

"They just played great basketball and you have got to give them credit," Gottfried said.

Commenting on his team's recent struggles vs. Lebo's Tigers, Gottfried said, "This group has to find a way, without making any excuses, we have to become a terrific basketball team with the players we have playing. I believe that is our job, it's my job. We have got to find a way. How do we get this team to play at a higher level right now?

"I think some of that has to do with that and you have got to give them credit," Gottfried added. "Jeff Lebo is a good coach. They do a good job. Their players have stepped up and played well. Give them credit for that, too. We haven't."

Auburn returns to action at 8 p.m. CST on Wednesday at Kentucky. The game will be regionally televised by Raycom.

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