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January 30, 2010

Men’s hoops: Late free throws lift Auburn past rival Alabama 58-57

AUBURN, Ala. — Having missed the second of two free throws in a tie game, Auburn’s DeWayne Reed had to make amends.

So the point guard gambled, going for a steal on Alabama’s side of the court, snatching the ball from Alabama’s Mikhail Torrance with five seconds left and feeding it to Lucas Hargrove, who got fouled on a layup attempt.

“Any other time coach would have gone crazy, but I’m glad he did it,” Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan said afterward.

“Coach still went crazy,” Hargrove quipped.

Hargrove made one of two free throws to break a 57-all tie with 3.1 seconds left. After an Alabama timeout, Sullivan knocked a fullcourt pass away from Justin Knox as time expired to help the Tigers hold on for a 58-57 victory at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.

“We’ve just found a way to gut it out, make some stops, get some big plays and win the game,” said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo, who has beaten Alabama in six of the last seven meetings. “We’ve found ways to lose games in the last five, six minutes of a game. It was nice for the kids to find a way to win a game.”

The Tigers (11-11, 2-5 SEC), who have four conference losses to team’s currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, narrowly avoided a 1-6 start to league play for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

“I’ve tried to tell our kids that we’ve lost to good teams,” Lebo said. “We’ve played right there with top-20 teams for 35, 36 minutes. We just have to be tougher both physically and mentally, and they did that.”

Alabama (13-8, 3-4) watched its two-game winning streak end. Asked about his first experience in the Iron Bowl of basketball, first-year Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant’s response was brief: “Tough loss.”

Nothing about the game was picturesque. Auburn has been accustomed to high-scoring affairs this season, with scores routinely reaching the 80’s.

Neither team found a rhythm Saturday, however. The teams slogged through a first half that featured 51 combined points, 19 fouls, 14 turnovers and only two 3-pointers in 14 attempts.

Alabama managed to take a 27-24 advantage into the locker room, a lead that grew to seven midway through the second half before Auburn responded with a 10-0 run keyed by guard Tay Waller.

The 3-point specialist had his best all-around game of the season, finishing with 20 points, five rebounds and four steals. He capped the Tigers’ run with a steal and one-handed dunk that made it 43-30 Auburn with 9:35 to play.

“Everyone was waiting for the offense and defense to come together,” Waller said, “and I think it did today.”

Neither team led by more than four the rest of the way. Alabama took a 57-53 lead with 2:22 to play on a layup by Torrance, who scored a team-high 13 points. But the Crimson Tide didn’t score the rest of the game.

Hargrove, who finished with 14 points, answered with a three-point play. The teams swapped misses over the next few minutes, with Torrance, the SEC’s leading free throw shooter at 86 percent, missing the front end of a one-and-one in the final minute.

That set the stage for Reed, who scuffled to a 10-point, six-turnover effort. He was fouled with 12 seconds left and made the first of two free throws to tie the game at 57, setting up the final sequence.

Even in victory, the Tigers made Lebo nervous, missing two free throws and a layup in the final minute, then sweating out a fullcourt pass that Knox caught 15 feet from the Auburn hoop before Sullivan knocked it out of his hands.

“We can make it get like a dental chair over there for me,” Lebo said.

SEC’s best defense, Alabama, faces SEC’s worst, Auburn

It’s the Iron Bowl of men’s basketball today. Here’s how my game advance starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — A professed basketball junkie, Auburn coach Jeff Lebo has a strong knowledge of first-year Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who made a name for himself as an assistant at Florida and a head coach at Virginia Commonwealth.

What Lebo has seen in Grant’s teams, particularly this year’s Crimson Tide squad, is an athletic group that shuts opponents down by defending every inch of the court.

It makes him wonder what happened to his own team’s defensive prowess.

It will be a tale of two defenses when Auburn (10-11, 1-5 SEC) and Alabama (13-7, 3-3) renew their in-state rivalry at 4 p.m. ET today at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

Read the full thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter.

January 29, 2010

Auburn football awaiting word from elite recruits

National Signing Day is approaching and Auburn still has plenty of feelers out to a few remaining targets. This stuff evolves by the day, so we’ll see what happens before the weekend officially starts, but here’s how my story for today’s newspaper starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s five days until recruits officially sign letters of intent on national signing day, but from Auburn’s perspective there is plenty of drama that remains in the final week.

The Tigers await decisions from their four top remaining targets, who will make their intentions known starting Monday.

In each instance, Auburn is competing against the recruit’s home-state school.

Read the entire story here. And follow the blog on Twitter.

Men’s hoops: Auburn folds down the stretch in 84-74 loss to No. 18 Ole Miss

AUBURN, Ala. — Another late-game slump has Auburn off to its worst start in SEC play in four seasons.

Ole Miss’ backcourt of Terrico White, Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice combined for 53 points to lead the No. 18 Rebels to a second-half charge in an 84-74 win against the slumping Tigers at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night.

“That was pretty standard for us,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “We get to the eight-minute mark and can’t finish it out. It’s frustrating. I feel for the kids.

Auburn (10-11, 1-5 SEC) is off to its worst start in league play since going 1-7 to begin the 2005-06 conference season.

It matches the worst six-game conference start of the Lebo era. The two previous times the Tigers started 1-5 in SEC play under Lebo, they finished 4-12.

Four of Auburn’s five SEC losses have come against teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

Ole Miss (16-4, 4-2) has already matched its win total from last season. Warren paced the Rebels with 20 points. White scored 19 and Polynice 14.

The Tigers led at halftime 41-38 after Brendon Knox converted a three-point play after being fouled on a layup with 3.4 seconds left. Auburn made eight 3-pointers in the half, led by Tay Waller, who made four and scored 16 of his team-high 21 points before the break.

But like losses at Tennessee and Vanderbilt, things slipped away for the Tigers in the second half. Ole Miss led by three before a 12-2 burst put the game out of reach.

White, who scored 16 of his 19 points after halftime, and Terrance Henry hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to start the run. A DeAundre Cranston layup and pull-up jumper by White capped things, giving the Rebels a 78-65 lead with 4:34 to play.

“We showed spurts, but we for some reason we just can’t keep it up,” Waller said. “It’s the same thing every game. It’s very frustrating.”

Auburn guard DeWayne Reed, who injured his right leg in practice Wednesday, started and finished with 15 points but was 4-for-15 from the field. He and guard Frankie Sullivan combined to go 6-for-27 from the floor.

The Rebels dominated the Tigers with their size, holding a 46-24 advantage in points in the paint. Ole Miss shot 56.7 percent for the game (34-for-60).

January 28, 2010

One-half woes plaguing Auburn basketball team

Big day for the Auburn basketball programs. The women’s team (11-9, 2-5 SEC) travels to play No. 5 Tennessee for a 7 ET tip-off. The Tigers beat the Lady Vols before an electric sellout crowd at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Stadium last season. Think Tennessee has payback on its mind?

The men’s team, meanwhile, hosts No. 18 Ole Miss. Here’s how my game advance for today’s newspaper starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Against a difficult stretch of competition to open SEC play, Auburn has shown it can play at least one effective half of basketball.

It’s the other half that’s proven to be problematic.

The Tigers (10-10, 1-4 SEC) will try to put together a rare complete game against another ranked opponent, No. 18 Mississippi, at 9:05 ET tonight in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

The Rebels (15-4, 3-2) are the fourth team Auburn will face in league play that currently is ranked in the Top 25. The Tigers had short-lived success in their other three matchups.

Read the entire thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter.

January 27, 2010

Antonio Coleman gets belated NFL Combine invite

Former Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman got a belated invite to the NFL Combine, according to various reports. Coleman, who projects as a DE/OLB in the pros, was a surprise snub when initial invitations were released earlier this month.

Running back Ben Tate was Auburn’s only initial representative at the combine. It runs from Feb. 24 to March 2 at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.

Both Coleman and Tate are at the Senior Bowl in Mobile this week.

Coleman measured 6-foot-2, 255 pounds. Tate was officially 5-foot-10, 214 pounds.

They were listed as 6-3, 261 and 5-11, 218, respectively, on Auburn’s roster last season.

January 25, 2010

Recruiting rewind: Auburn hosts group of juniors while several targets take other viisits

It was a quiet weekend on the Plains from a 2010 recruiting standpoint, but Auburn hosted a number of players who could be in their 2011 class.

We know this because the fine folks at the Tigers’ three recruiting Web sites — AuburnSports.com, Inside the Auburn Tigers and AuburnUndercover.com — are on the spot for recruiting news at all times.

Although things were low-key, some of the Tigers’ targets were still making some news. Let’s get caught up (as soon as you follow the blog on Twitter):

  • Five-star running back Marcus Lattimore did not make an unofficial visit to Auburn, as some had expected. He’ll host South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier this weekend, according to The State. Gene Chizik and another assistant plan to visit him this week, according to reports. The Byrnes, S.C., product, who is ranked the No. 1 back by Rivals and Scout, has narrowed his choices to the Tigers and Gamecocks.
  • Four-star defensive tackle Byran Jones took an official visit this weekend to his home-state school, Arkansas. He’s narrowed his choices to the Tigers and Razorbacks.
  • Four-star defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker took an official visit to Georgia, where new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is installing a 3-4 defense, just like the on Whitaker plays at Warner Robins (Ga.) High. Whitaker still has an official visit with Miami scheduled.
  • A couple of Auburn commits made visits to other schools: OL Shon Coleman to Ole Miss, WR Trovon Reed to LSU and RB D.J. Howard to Clemson. Nothing has seems to have changed about their commitment to Auburn, however.

January 23, 2010

Men’s hoops: Auburn watches another early lead vanish in 82-74 loss at Vanderbilt

Auburn blew another early lead in a conference road game, watching an 11-point halftime advantage turn into an 82-74 loss to Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville this afternoon.

The blog was not there, but when our television broadcast worked, we watched it on TV.

The Tigers (10-10) dropped to 1-4 in the SEC. Vanderbilt (15-3, 4-0) has won nine straight.

Like the Tennessee game earlier this month, Auburn jumped to a big advantage early, leading by as many as 16 in the first half and going into halftime up 43-32.

But Vanderbilt outscored Auburn 50-31 in the second half. Jeffery Taylor led a balanced Commodores attack with 18 points.

Lucas Hargrove led Auburn with 19 points and 10 rebounds. DeWayne Reed scored 16 points and Frankie Sullivan 14.

The Tigers return home for a game Thursday against Ole Miss at 9 p.m.. ET.

Tigers seek momentum in Music City showdown

I wrote a story advancing Auburn’s game at Vanderbilt this afternoon. Here’s how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Ask the casual basketball fan who the best teams in the SEC East are and the answers are predictable.

No. 2 Kentucky, rightfully so, pops up first. Tennessee, with the affable Bruce Pearl, likely comes in second.

Vanderbilt probably doesn’t enter the conversation, although Auburn coach Jeff Lebo thinks it should.

“They didn’t get the hype maybe from the media,” he said, “but I think from the coaches in the league, we all knew that they were going to be a very good basketball team.”

Auburn (10-9, 1-3 SEC) will have a difficult task when it travels to Nashville, Tenn., this afternoon for a 1:30 game against the red-hot Commodores. Vanderbilt (14-3, 3-0), which has won eight straight, is quietly one of four remaining unbeatens in SEC play, joining the aforementioned Kentucky and Tennessee, plus Mississippi State.

Read the full article here. And follow the blog on Twitter.

January 22, 2010

Quiet recruiting weekend on the Plains; Tigers waiting for decisions from four highly-touted recruits

I wrote a story for today’s paper about Auburn’s relatively quiet upcoming recruiting weekend. The Tigers are still awaiting big decisions from a few big-name recruits. Here’s how the article starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — With national signing day less than two weeks away, most of the work for Auburn’s 2010 recruiting class has been done.

It will be a quiet weekend on the Plains, with no official visitors scheduled as of Thursday, according to Auburn’s primary recruiting Web sites.

The Tigers have 23 commits for 2010, with the possibility of signing 28 on Feb. 3. But they’ve got feelers out to a few big-name recruits who will be making their final decisions soon.

Auburn, which currently ranks fourth nationally in Rivals.com’s recruiting rankings, is still in the mix for running back Marcus Lattimore, defensive end Corey Lemonier and defensive tackles Jeffrey Whitaker and Byran Jones.

Read the full thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter.