AUBURN, Ala. – It’s safe to say Chris Denson’s scoring presence makes a difference.
So does a heat-seeking freshman who suddenly can’t miss.
Denson had his second straight offensive outburst returning from academic suspension while Jordan Price’s perimeter shot stayed scorching, helping Auburn notch its first winning streak of the season with a 64-50 victory over Furman Saturday night at Auburn Arena.
“Losing is contagious, and winning is contagious,” Denson said. “We’re trying our best to stay on that winning side.”
Denson, a junior guard and Shaw alum, sat out the first seven games while academically ineligible, which damaged the Tigers’ depth as they lost five of those seven. On a night when Auburn (4-5) committed 19 fouls, Denson and Price wouldn’t let Auburn suffer a bad home loss.
“When Coach Barbee put me right back in the starting lineup, that was an automatic boost for my confidence,” Denson said. “I knew what I had to do when I came back.”
Denson put up 17 points on 7-of-10 field goals, adding a career-best six rebounds.
“It’s no surprise what Chris is doing offensively,” coach Tony Barbee said. “His maturity and attention to detail on defense, he’s been a little deficient his first few years … I think that’s where he’s made the biggest adjustment.”
Price chipped in 14 points on just six attempts, and matched Tuesday’s 4-for-4 effort from beyond the 3-point line. The freshman now has made 16-of-31 3-point tries.
“It starts in practice, just working out every day, getting in extra shots with my coaches and teammates,” Price said, who added he feels settled in during this rookie year. “It started real fast, and I wasn’t really ready. As time goes on, and this Christmas break really helped me out, I’m getting in better shape. I’m getting more accustomed with the speed of the game.”
The Tigers opened up an 18-point lead early in the second half, and coasted the rest of the way behind their zone defense.
“We have to mature as a team. We have to get better,” Barbee said. “We came out with really good defensive energy, we guarded the 3-point line. But I thought we got content with the 15-point lead at halftime.”
The Tigers combatted foul trouble all evening, but their energy started on the defensive end. Furman (3-6) shot just 31 percent from the floor, including 5-22 from three. Furman’s leading scorers – twin brothers Colin and Charlie Reddick – scored 24 points on 9-of-17 field goals, but the rest of the Paladins were 7-for-35 with 26 points.
Auburn senior Frankie Sullivan rested below his scoring average with 11 points, but dished out a career-best seven assists and grabbed five boards in 30 minutes – tied with Denson for the team’s longest court time.
1) Auburn athletic trainer Jermile Brooks had a busy night, but nothing too serious. Senior center Rob Chubb tweaked his right ankle in the first half, but returned fairly soon and saw Asauhn Dixon-Tatum produce 21 solid, active minutes off the bench with a season-high nine rebounds and three blocks.
Freshman Shaq Johnson needed to be helped up after a loose-ball collision, holding his right side, but he returned to action. And Dixon-Tatum appeared to cut his left arm, having his forearm and jersey dabbed on the sideline.
2) After some rebounding issues cropped up in the Charleston Classic Tournament, Auburn has cleaned up the glass much better in four straight home games – outrebounding the opponent by an average of 8.3 boards. The margin Saturday was 42-29 in favor of the Tigers.
However, the buckets are still tough to come by.
“We have to be better offensively,” Barbee said. “We had to have missed 15 to 20 shots within five feet of the rim. I’m talking point-blank layups, post moves. We have to be better, tougher and stronger around the rim.”
Auburn’s frontcourt players – Chubb, Dixon-Tatum, Allen Payne and Noel Johnson – scored just 18 points.
3) The paid attendance was recorded at just 4,820 at Auburn Arena, but an open house broke out with the who’s who of Auburn athletics. Last year’s leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer Kenny Gabriel had courtside seats, back after his first professional season in Israel.
Athletic director Jay Jacobs, football head coach Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and baseball coach John Pawlowski also made appearances.
Final thought: The losing streak’s a distant memory, but Barbee’s right – Auburn must play better than this against tougher opponents ahead.
Next: The Tigers’ homestand continues Tuesday night against Tennessee Tech (6-4).