The loss continued a harrowing SEC season for Jeff Lebo's club as the Tigers have now dropped games against Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss after leading for a large portion of the first half. Lebo said it's just frustrating to see his team get to a point in the second half and then be unable to finish things off.
"It's pretty standard for us to get to the eight-minute mark, be right there and not able to finish it out," Lebo said. "It's frustrating. I feel for the kids. We had five turnovers with 14 more shots with the same amount of free throws; you can feel good about that. We couldn't finish. We missed some key shots coming down the stretch.
"Some guys struggled shooting the basketball. Offensively, their size and points in the paint killed us, 46 points in the paint. Their guards were jumping over us. (Terrico) White killed us by getting to the midpoint and using his athleticism to get over us to make plays. They have a good team and they're hard to stop offensively."
For Auburn the loss came despite an unusually sound performance handling the basketball and some hot shooting from senior guard Tay Waller. For the game the Tigers committed just five turnovers, two off the school record set back in 1970 against Georgia. Waller scored a season-high 21 points and hit on 5-11 three-pointers, but in the end Ole Miss was too big and too physical for the Tigers as they outscored Auburn 46-24 in the paint. Lebo said White was the difference maker Thursday night.
"Their size on the perimeter really bothered us," Lebo said. "White gets it, and he's so strong with it and big and he puts it on the floors and when he had some key shots for them in the second half. We were worried, coming in that he was coming off of a one-point game at LSU. You look back at his games when he's had single digits, he always comes out every night and was a difference maker for them. He made some key shots at key times."
Freshman Ty Armstrong dunks on the Rebels.
The first half was a back and forth affair as the Tigers started out on fire from behind the arc. Trailing 4-2 Waller hit back-to-back three-pointers in a 30 second span to get Auburn's offense untracked. Another three by DeWayne Reed put Auburn up 11-4 just four minutes into the game, but Ole Miss would make a run behind point guard Chris Warren. His first triple of the half cut the lead back to four as the Rebels would continue to battle back and eventually take the lead back 20-18 on an Eniel Polynice basket with 12:46 remaining in the half.
Another three, this one by Frankie Sullivan, put Auburn back in front and the two teams would trade baskets until another Warren three-pointer gave Ole Miss a 29-26 advantage. Terrance Henry then added another basket to put Ole Miss up five with just under four minutes left. The lead was still at five before two Reed free throws made it 34-31 with 2:28 left. An Earnest Ross steal and layup cut more into the lead before a Sullivan three gave Auburn back the lead 36-33. Eventually Ole Miss would tie the game at 38 setting up the final possession for Auburn. Running the shot clock down, Reed dished the ball to Brendon Knox in the lane where he made the basket and was fouled with only 3.4 seconds left. The free throw pushed the lead to 41-38 at the half.
Auburn did its damage from behind the arc as the Tigers made 8-19 three-pointers while Ole Miss was just 3-12. Waller led the way in the first half with 16 points while Reed added 10 points and three assists. Warren's 11 points led the Rebels as they shot 50 percent (17-34) from the floor. Unfortunately for Auburn the visitors would only heat up in the second half.
"We always play with a lot more energy in the first half than in the second half," Waller said. "We come out flat in the second half sometimes and it's hard for us to pick it up. Over the course of the game we show spurts in the second half like we do in the first, but for some reason we can't keep it up."
Early in the second though Auburn held strong as a Knox dunk with 18:10 left in the game put the Tigers ahead 45-40, but Ole Miss would go on an 11-2 run with Warren and White combining for nine points. In a matter of four minutes the Tigers went from five ahead to four down. That enabled the Rebels to begin to control things with their size in the paint as the 6-5, 230 White was able to score at will in the second half.
Auburn was able to continue to stay within striking distance though despite going cold from outside with the exception of a pair of three-pointers from Hargrove and the fifth of the game from Waller. Waller's came with 8:15 remaining and brought Auburn to within one point 62-61. From that point forward it was all Ole Miss.
Over the next four minutes the Rebels outscored Auburn 16-4 to break the game open and improve to 4-2 in SEC play on the year. Warren led Ole Miss with 20 points while White chipped in with 19 and Polynice with 14.
Hargrove added 11 points and eight rebounds for Auburn while Knox added 10 and Sullivan seven points on just 2-12 shooting. The story of the night was the play of freshman forward Ty Armstrong. Coming off the bench Armstrong scored six points and had two rebounds in just six minutes of action.
Auburn returns to action Saturday at 3 p.m. when the Tigers take on Alabama at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Prior to the game members of the SEC Tournament Championship team of 1985 and other 80's standouts will be signing autographs on the concourse and will be honored at halftime.