Between a trip back home for Christmas and the Chick-fil-A Bowl schedule, it’s been a little hard to keep track of Auburn men’s basketball, but now that I’m safely back in Auburn and stationary for a while, the Tigers are getting ready to play MEAC opponent Bethune-Cookman at 8 p.m. ET tonight in Auburn Arena.
Auburn (9-3) has been exposed a bit in its last three games, dropping a blowout loss to Long Beach State, another loss to Tony Barbee’s former team in UTEP and badly needing a second-half rally to beat Georgia Southern last week on the night before the Chick-fil-A Bowl itself. Whatever Auburn’s problems are right now, the Tigers have to get them figured out soon. Tonight’s game against Bethune-Cookman is the last cupcake on Auburn’s schedule. Following that game, Auburn plays Florida State on Wednesday night before turning its attention to the SEC slate, which leads off with preseason darling Vanderbilt.
Bethune-Cookman (4-10) should be ripe for the picking. The Wildcats, who have struggled so far this season, have not played since a Dec. 23 loss to Tennessee Tech, nearly two full weeks without a game. But Auburn better find a way to avoid the slow half that put them in a double-digit hole against Georgia Southern, or the Tigers will have to put together another late comeback to avoid taking a disastrous loss.
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Auburn vs. Bethune-Cookman
- When: 8 p.m. ET.
- Where: Auburn Arena.
- TV: Auburn IMG Sports Network.
- Last time out: Auburn 78, Georgia Southern 75; Tennessee Tech 69, Bethune-Cookman 57.
- Series: Auburn leads 2-0.
- Center: Auburn’s Rob Chubb gets a gift in his last true mismatch before wandering into a game against Florida State and ACC play. Chubb, who is averaging 10.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, has had an up-and-down season, but nobody in Bethune-Cookman’s starting lineup stands taller than 6-foot-6 forward Garrius Holloman, who scores 10.1 points and pulls down 6.3 rebounds per game. Edge: Auburn.
- Forward: Senior Kenny Gabriel was on a tear over the Christmas holidays, capped by a 24-point, 8-rebound performance against UTEP. Right now, Gabriel is second on the Tigers in points (11.9) and leads in rebounds (7.8) and blocks (2.3). Bethune-Cookman is listed in the notes as playing a four-guard lineup, but the most likely player to come in and bang with Gabriel in the post is 230-pound leading scorer Anthony Breeze at 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Edge: Auburn.
- Swingman: Josh Langford is listed with Auburn’s starters. Since returning from his suspension that opened the season, Langford has provided a little scoring punch (7.8 points) and athleticism on the defensive end of the floor. Atlanta native Adrien Coleman, a 6-5 player, is averaging 9.4 points and 3.6 rebounds. Edge: Push.
- Guard: Frankie Sullivan has cooled a bit from his early pace, but the burly 6-2 shooter is still averaging 12.8 points-per-game and pulling down 4.9 rebounds. When Auburn needs a big shot, Sullivan likes to take them. Over on the other side, Bethune-Cookman’s Stanley Elliott is 6-3, but he’s only averaging 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Edge: Auburn.
- Guard: Auburn’s backcourt version of Gabriel is Varez Ward, who has 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists this season. Ward is responsible for directing Auburn’s offense, and he’ll probably be matched up against diminutive 5-foot-9 freshman Ricky Johnson, who has struggled so far this season. Edge: Auburn.
- Bench: Auburn’s spark at sixth man, Chris Denson, is countered by 5-9 Bethune-Cookman 3-point shooter Kevin Dukes, who averages 9.8 points-per-game, but the rest of the Tigers’ bench — Josh Wallace, Allen Payne, Noel Johnson, Willy Kouassi, etc. — gives Auburn the depth to pull away when Bethune-Cookman starts subbing. Edge: Auburn.