Backcourt Trio Leads Tigers To Victory

Tay Waller, DeWayne Reed and Frankie Sullivan came up big for Auburn in the 91-76 victory over Mississippi State.

Auburn, Ala.—Saturday's game against Mississippi State was a big SEC contest for Auburn, but for Tay Waller it felt like he was back at Okaloosa-Walton Junior College in Florida.

Waller had a season-high 32 points, 15 of which came in the first 4:20 of the game as he started 5-5 on threes.

"(It happened) just about every time last year in juco," he sid of his shooting. "It felt real good to do it here for the first time. The coaches knew I could do it and I'm glad they stuck with me and believed."

Waller finished the game 8-12 from behind the three-point line in the Tigers' 91-76 victory over Mississippi State to improve to 5-5 in conference play. The shooting ability from long range is what Lebo saw out of Waller coming out of Okaloosa-Walton.

"This isn't juco," Lebo said. "This is different. I scored a lot in high school. He can do this. He's certainly capable of doing this. I saw it in juco. He can flat out get it going.

"If you look at our games when he gets it going and when he plays well it's like energy to our team. He's one of those guys that when he gets it going the rest of our guys play with a little more juice. I thought DeWayne Reed was solid today and Frankie Sullivan was awfully good."

Playing against a sharp-shooting Bulldog four-guard lineup, it was actually the Auburn guards that thrived. In addition to Waller's 32, Reed had 16 points, seven boards and six assists while Sullivan had 14 points off the bench.

"Coach Lebo told me that Tay was hot, to feed him and to feed off him," Sullivan said. "They were playing Tay and Coach Lebo told me to keep my eyes on the ball, and when I catch it just let it rip."

Tay Waller

Of Waller's eight threes, not many, if any, came on wide open looks.

"I was just shooting it anyway," Waller said with a smile. "It felt good. When I caught it I felt like I could get it off. Coach told me to keep shooting it so I let it go.

"My teammates make a better effort to get me the ball when I'm scoring," he added. "When I hit two, then Reed told me to keep working for the ball and that he's looking for me. He found me and I made the shots."

For most players, a deep fade-away three pointer with a defender in your face would translate into time on the bench. But for Waller, he has the green light to take it when he thinks he can make it.

"He's got an ability to do that," Lebo said. "That's why I give him a little more leeway there because that's what his ability is. My college coach (Dean Smith of North Carolina), he wouldn't play for him. I'll tell you that right now. But that's what he does. When he gets it going I give him even more because he can make tough ones. That's a God-given gift and he can do that. I understood that when I took him.

"I told him when I recruited him that I thought he could be the Chris Lofton of the SEC West," Lebo continued. "To be him, he's got to be a little more consistent there. He's really improved defensively, and that's really helped us. We've really challenged him to get some rebounds. What I'm more proud of than those points is that he got nine rebounds tonight, eight defensive."

While it felt like a game from last year shooting the ball, Waller said the last time he had nine rebounds was probably at Manchester High School.

Late in the game against the Bulldogs as Waller had already buried his eight threes, he was able to get to the free throw line on a fouled three point attempt. With defenders flying to him any time he touched the basketball, he was able to get into the lane a couple of times for points.

"He's got to add that to his game," Lebo said of putting the ball on the floor. "He's got people jumping at him all of the time. That's something he's going to have to work on really hard in the off season because he's our best foul shooter. He's got to mix that in and be strong enough and tough enough to be able to put it on the floor with contact.

"When people jump at him he'll be able to take it in there and do whatever he wants. That's something he's going to have to work on to complement his shooting in the offseason."

The backcourt trio of Waller, Reed and Sullivan combined for 62 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in the victory and was 13-24 behind the arc. Auburn had 13 made three-pointers as a team, a season high.

While it was a career high for Waller, Sullivan's 14 points were the most he has scored in an SEC contest this season in 27 minutes of action.

"He's been solid," Lebo said of Sullivan. He's been better defensively. He's done this a lot so I played him some more minutes. He's tough and he's getting better defensively. It was one of the his best games that he's played all-around.

"He's comes up with balls," he added. "Those 50/50 balls he's tough. He gets on the floor. He comes up with a lot of those and he had a lot of long rebounds tonight. I thought he did a nice job with being around the ball a lot."

Auburn's next game is at Georgia on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Central.

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