AUBURN, Ala. – Facing a tougher and scrappier opponent in the second of its two exhibitions, Auburn had to rely on a craft that wasn’t a strength last season.
Shooting is the most simplistic skill in basketball, and the easiest way to avoid some doldrums in the post, which the Tigers shook off in Monday’s 66-50 triumph over Georgia Southwestern State at Auburn Arena Monday night.
The Hurricanes, which went 3-14 in the Division II Peach Belt Conference in 2011-12, didn’t make the 100-mile trip from Americus, Ga. with the intention of getting run over. GSW led 14-6 nearly nine minutes into the contest, taking advantage of a flurry of Auburn’s missed layups in traffic and transition.
“They shouldn’t happen,” said Auburn head coach Tony Barbee of a sluggish start, joking he felt his team would have learned more from a loss than pulling out the win.
“We have a veteran group starting. We want to make the other team match our intensity and match our play. That wasn’t the case for the second straight game. We started better against Victory, but against a higher level opponent, they were working at about a thousand miles an hour and we were about 200.”
But Allen Payne’s 3-ball got the comeback started, and the Tigers didn’t relent from outside the arc. Noel Johnson, Frankie Sullivan, Josh Wallace and Jordan Price got into the act, helping Auburn make 7-of-16 shots from 3-point land – a vast improvement from the Tigers’ 30.2 percent clip last year.
The senior Johnson scraped out a double-double – something he’s never gotten before in a counted game – with a clean 10 points and 10 boards.
“Coach Barbee told me in front of everybody, if you rebound like that every night, you’ll get a lot more minutes,” Johnson said. “So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Asauhn Dixon-Tatum led the Tigers with 11 points and four blocks. A transfer from Chattahoochee Tech, Dixon-Tatum led the NJCAA with 5.4 blocks per game last year.
“It’s all about timing, being aware and making sure I’m down in the defensive stance,” Dixon-Tatum said. “If I see an opportunity or my teammate needs help, I’m coming over to block the shot.”
Center Rob Chubb, after recording a double-double against a tiny Victory University lineup in the exhibition opener, was hampered by foul trouble. He recorded two points, a block and no rebounds while picking up four fouls in 12 minutes of action.
In Auburn’s 11-man rotation, every Tiger put up multiple shot attempts and nobody took more than eight. Barbee doesn’t have his starting five fastened down yet – on Monday, it was Payne at forward, Chubb at center and Wallace, Sullivan and Johnson at the guards.
“We base it on who does the little things to win us games,” Barbee said. “It won’t all be determined off these two tapes. It will be determined in practice as well. Our starting lineup will probably be a fluid situation all year long until some guys come along and establish themselves.”
Auburn committed 26 fouls Monday, allowing GSW to shoot 25 free throws.
“I like our depth,” Barbee said. “If we foul as much as we have fouled in these first two games, I will need all 12 guys.”
Auburn’s season opener comes Friday against IPFW at Auburn Arena, with an 8 p.m. ET tipoff.