AUBURN, Ala. – It hurt Chris Denson that he couldn’t help.
Once allowed to return, he didn’t waste a moment getting Auburn back on the right track.
Denson’s electrics sparked Auburn to shake off a 4-game losing skid, gunning Grambling State out of Auburn Arena with a 92-42 victory Tuesday night.
There was a noticeable pep in CD3’s step for his first game of the year, after sitting out the first month while academically ineligible.
“I grew up, point blank, period,” Denson said. “I didn’t have my head on right. My priorities were messed up. That comes with maturity, and I think I went through that. I have a great family, and Coach Barbee and my teammates really stood by my side when I was going through the hard time.”
The Shaw product scored Auburn’s first point on a free throw, connected on the receiving end of an alley-oop set up by Allen Payne, and finished with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting with a pair of dunks to celebrate being cleared to return.
“I am happy for Chris that he has been able to refocus,” coach Tony Barbee said. “This is the rest of his career. I want to see him perform the way he did academically year-round, not just when he’s behind the 8-ball.
“Obviously from a basketball perspective, we all see what he brings to the team.”
Denson had to pass a sky-high 19 credit hours of coursework – “that’s what engineers take a lot,” Denson said – with the help of tutors, and when he successfully did so during last week’s final exams, he was reinstated to the Tigers’ starting lineup immediately.
“Not playing for the first (month) and seeing my team go through that hard stretch really hurt, just being on the sideline,” Denson said. “Today was a sigh of relief.”
So was the game for Denson’s teammates. Perhaps rusty from a 10-day layoff, Auburn (3-5) struggled out of the gates, missing its first seven shots from the floor.
Leading just 27-15 at the half, the Tigers had no such issues closing it out, sinking 68 percent of their shots and pouring in a season-high 65 points in the final 20 minutes.
“Losing is not fun. They have kept a good attitude,” Barbee said. “We are going to be a much better team in January than we were in November and December because of the youth.”
It was the most productive half for an Auburn team in 19 years, since a 113-86 victory against Troy on Dec. 9, 1993. This was also the Tigers’ first 50-point romp since Jan. 2, 2000, when they smoked Stony Brook 100-45.
Five Tigers reached double digits, led by 14 points a piece for a pair of reserves in senior Noel Johnson and freshman Jordan Price. Price had all of his 14 in the second half, helping Auburn’s bench (43 points) outscore Grambling State’s entire team.
“It feels better than losing,” Price said. “Our coach said winning is contagious, so hopefully this win right here will rub off on us and we can just continue to press forward and win some more games.”
Seniors Frankie Sullivan and Rob Chubb chipped in 10 points.
Auburn capitalized on careless ball security from Grambling State (0-7), which allowed 24 turnovers to be converted into 36 points.
Barbee displayed his seventh different starting lineup in eight games. The coasting victory allowed Barbee to rest his regulars – nobody played more than 23 minutes.
Auburn announced pregame that junior forward Shareif Adamu, a transfer from Georgia Perimeter College, was dismissed from the Auburn basketball program for an undisclosed purpose.
“I am disappointed in some of the decisions that Shareif made to put himself in this position,” Barbee said. “This sport of basketball is a great vehicle to teach a lot of life lessons. The biggest ones for guys this age is decisions you make in your life will affect everything you do in life. So we want to learn from other people’s mistakes and not our own.”
Adamu started two games this year – most recently Nov. 21 at Boston College – and averaged 2.7 points and 2.0 rebounds in 12.3 minutes per game.
The Tigers return to game action Saturday at 8 p.m. ET against Furman.