"Junkyard Dog" Effort Leads Tigers Past Tulsa

Jeff Lebo's Auburn basketball Tigers picked up their 24th victory with a round two NIT victory over Tulsa.

Auburn, Ala.--Jeff Lebo's Auburn Tigers advanced to the quarter-finals of the National Invitation Tournament with a 74-55 victory over Tulsa on Friday night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

The Tigers will be at home again on Tuesday at 6 p.m. CDT vs. Baylor, an 84-66 winner at Virginia Tech on Saturday. The game will be televised on ESPN.

The Tigers won Friday night's contest with defense against a Tulsa team out of Conference USA that tried to get physical. The Tigers forced 18 turnovers and finished the contest with a dozen steals.

"I tell you, Auburn is a quick team," Tulsa head coach Doug Wojcik said.

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said he liked his team's toughness. "We just play like a bunch of junkyard dogs," he said. "That is what we do."

Justin Hurtt, who led Tulsa in scoring with 16 points, said, "They were quick with their hands on defense. That led to a lot of turnovers tonight."

Auburn got 17 points from senior Rasheem Barrett, who hit 7-13 field goals and added four rebounds with two assists.

DeWayne Reed scored 12 for the Tigers. He had three fives on his final stats line--five assists, five turnovers and five steals.

Frankie Sullivan came off the bench and provided a spark with 10 points and three steals. Tulsa's Wojcik said the freshman was a significant factor helping the Tigers build a lead in the first half.

In a strangely officiated game, Korvotney Barber got in immediate foul trouble and played just 13 minutes the entire contest. He didn't score in the first half, but finished the night with nine points, but had just two rebounds.

Korvotney Barber takes the ball to the basket vs. Tulsa.

Lebo had praise for Barber's backup, Brendon Knox, who scored four points and added four rebounds off the bench. Knox also helped the Tigers hold Tulsa's leading scorer, 7-0, 240-pound center Jerome Jordan, to four points to go with his game-high 10 rebounds.

Auburn was out-rebounded 45-43, but had four fewer turnovers and outshot the Golden Hurricane 41.0 percent to 34.4 percent from the field.

The Tigers hit 8-21 threes against the nation's top-ranked three-point defensive team. Tulsa made 5-18 threes vs. the Tigers.

Auburn hit 16-25 foul shots. Tulsa made just 6-12.

Tulsa's Wojcik said the turnovers and low percentage shooting the basketball doomed his team in the matchup vs. the Tigers out of the SEC.

Lebo had praise for the play of Barber and noted that Johnnie Lett gave the Tigers some help as he saw seven minutes of action in his first court time since being injured on January 31.

Lebo also pointed out that Sullivan did some good things and the coach praised the crowd. Although just 4,092 paying customers were in the house with the students on spring break, as was the case on Wednesday night it was loud group of fans and into the game from start to finish. "It has been loud, it has been energetic, it has been fun," Lebo said of the two NIT home games this week.

To put it politely, the first half was unevenly officiated. Barber had two mystery foul calls in the opening minutes and didn't return to the court until the second half. His backup, Brendon Knox, played 12 minutes in the first half and scored four points and added four rebounds in the period.

Lett played five minutes and pulled in three rebounds in the opening half.

Tulsa led briefly in the opening minutes, but Auburn pulled ahead at the 13:06 mark as Quantez Robertson hit a pair of free throws to put the Tigers on top 9-8. The Tigers never trailed after that.

Two more free throws by Robertson at the 8:50 mark stretched the lead to 19-10.

Auburn built the lead into double figures at 24-14 on a three-pointer from the top of the key by Reed at the 6:03 mark. The Tigers' biggest first half lead was 13 at the 2:42 mark on a three from Sullivan to make the score 33-20.

At halftime the Tigers were on top 33-22 despite shooting just 32.3 percent from the field. Auburn hit just 10-31 field goals and was 4-12 on threes and 9-14 at the foul line in the first half.

Frankie Sullivan drives to the basket.

The Golden Hurricane hit 9-30 field goals (30 percent), 2-8 threes and 2-4 foul shots at halftime.

The Tigers held a 25-21 rebounding edge at the break and had seven turnovers, three fewer than Tulsa.

Barrett led the Tigers in scoring at halftime with 10 points. Hurtt scored 12 points for the high point total for Tulsa at intermission.

In the second half, Auburn's lead never dropped into single digits as the Tigers hit 15-30 field goals and 4-9 threes in the period.

Tulsa ended its season with a 25-11 record. "They are a very good team," Wojcik said of the Tigers. "Credit to them. It just wasn't our night."

Auburn improved its record to 24-11, which is the second most wins in an Auburn season. The 35 games is the most ever played in a season by the Tigers.

"I am proud of our team," Lebo said. "Our defensive effort was outstanding, and to do it without Korvotney Barber in the game much in the first half or in the second half...I thought Knox did an excellent job. Johnnie Lett came in. You can still see he's dragging his foot. His ankle's still bothering him."

Lebo added that he liked Auburn's hustle. "We've been doing a good job all year of getting to the ball--50/50 balls for the most part. With our quickness and our toughness going after those things we've come up with a lot of those balls and they are difference-makers in games."

Lebo and Wojcik are close friends who talk about basketball throughout the season. Lebo played at North Carolina and Wojcik coached there. Asked about their relation, Tulsa's coach said, "I don't like him! I'm just kidding, he's fine. You know we talked about it a month or three weeks ago and said we'd probably end up meeting each other in the NIT and sure enough, it came true.

"I have no feelings one way or the other," Wojcik added. "If you're going to compete against somebody or go against somebody, I'd rather to compete against one of the good guys. He's one of the good guys.

Lebo's Tigers are now one victory away from advancing to the NIT Final Four in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

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