AUBURN, Ala. - A team headed nowhere defeated a team that could be taking that same course if Auburn's 58-50 victory over Ole Miss here Wednesday night is any indication.
The Tigers won only their second Southeastern Conference game of the season and just their tenth overall (10-10, 2-7). The Rebels, who started 3-0 in SEC play, dropped their sixth game in a row and are now 13-9 and 3-6.
This one took a turn in Auburn's favor late in the first half. Neither team played very well early in a low-scoring affair, but the Rebels managed to move out to a 29-15 lead on a couple of Clarence Sanders free throws with 2:05 to go in the first half.
Amazingly from that point on, the Tigers, before a sparce crowd announced at 3,723 which appeared to be less, outscored the visiting Rebels 43-21. That's 21 points in the game's last 22 minutes, five seconds for Ole Miss.
After Auburn's Quantez Robertson matched Sanders' two free throws to cut the UM lead to 29-17, Rebel sophomore center Jermey Parnell mishandled what appeared to be a sure dunk with 1:23 to go before halftime. Auburn's Brett Howell immediately came down and nailed the third of his three first-half 3-pointers only eight seconds after Parnell's missed dunk. The Rebels still led by nine, but the momentum had shifted.
After Dwayne Curtis picked up an offensive foul, the Tigers moved downcourt and got a layup by Daniel Hayles with 38 seconds to go, and he made a free throw as well after being fouled by Rebel freshman Mike Smith to cut it to 29-23. After the Rebels turned it over again, Auburn missed on a shot before the buzzer, or their 8-0 run to end the half would have been even greater.
Ole Miss appeared to get things back together as the second half moved on and led by nine points at 42-33 halfway through the second half on two Mike Smith free throws. But from that point on, things went sour for Ole Miss, especially offensively. The Tigers turned up the full-court pressure making it difficult for the Rebels to even get the ball in bounds. And when they got it in, they were often hemmed in a corner with nothing to do but call timeout or turn it over.
In the game's next five minutes, the Tigers went on a 14-4 run, capped by a Robertson 3-pointer for a 47-46 AU lead.
When Todd Abernethy hit a 3-pointer to give Ole Miss a 50-49 lead with exactly four minutes remaining, the Rebels would not score another point as the Tigers' lone senior, Ronny LeMelle, basically took over and scored all but two of Auburn's final nine points. LaMelle with 18 points was the only Tiger in double figures.
Abernethy was the lone Rebel in double figures with 10 points. Curtis, the former Auburn player, was held to his lowest point total in SEC play this season with seven points. Sanders had nine points, and freshman Trey Hampton had eight points.
Ole Miss' 50 points was the lowest point total Auburn had held a team so far this SEC season.
The loss was a bitter one to swallow for the Rebel coaches and players. Auburn appears to be the weakest team in the SEC West, and certainly the team with the least amount of size and height. For Ole Miss not to stop its losing streak on this night was summed up quite well by its head coach, Rod Barnes.
"I'm really disappointed in our basketball team," he said. "We didn't play well or with a lot of confidence, and I take full responsibility for that."
Certainly it appears a team brimming with confidence a month ago has indeed all but lost that edge with six straight losses.
"We had some opportunities to put this game away, but we didn't do it," Barnes said. "Down the stretch both teams had opportunities, but they were the team that took advantage of them."
Barnes admitted that turnovers were once again a major problem for his team.
"We were up in the first half, but we had 10 turnovers by halftime," he said. "We had way too many again in this game (23), and that hurt us badly again."
Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo, according to his players, had sent his team a stern message at halftime.
"Coach gave us a little pep talk," Howell said. "He basically said we weren't playing with enough energy. A lot of guys picked it up in the second half, especially defensively."
Lebo said he felt holding Curtis to seven points and five rebounds was big.
"I thought our guys did a great job on Curtis," the second-year AU head coach said. "And Ole Miss had trouble with our zone (defense) which was a key for us."
Ole Miss shot 46 percent (17-37) from the field, including 37 percent (7-19) from 3-point range. The Rebs were 9-16 for 56 percent from the free throw line.
Auburn shot 42 percent (21-50) from the field, but only 29 percent (6-21) from 3-point land. The Tigers were 10-15 for 67 percent from the line.
A smaller Auburn team outrebounded a bigger Ole Miss team 30-25. The Tigers scored more points in the paint (24-20) and had 15 second-chance points to only four for Ole Miss.
The Rebels have two straight home games now as Alabama comes to C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum for a 2 p.m. game Saturday, followed by a Wednesday 7 p.m. contest with Arkansas.
Rebels continue downward spiral at Auburn
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