AUBURN, Ala. – Chris Denson has never fired down such a ferocious dunk. And Jordan Price has never felt so hot from beyond the 3-point line.
There sat Denson and Price together, new heroes of the Auburn hardcourt reveling as the dominant duo was once again the storyline when the Tigers tucked away Tennessee Tech 81-62 Tuesday night at Auburn Arena.
If Denson and Price were playing a friendly game of “can you top this?” on the court, they were happy to team up a short distance away from the action in a postgame press conference, discussing where Auburn (5-5) could be headed.
“I was talking to (teammate KT Harrell), and we were like, we are going to be so sick next year,” Denson said. “The potential is like disgusting for next year. We are looking forward to it, but we also have to focus on this year, too.”
The victory gives Auburn three straight, and allows the Tigers to revisit .500 at 5-5 with three non-conference tests remaining before the SEC slate. Winthrop (4-5), which gave host No. 7 Ohio State a tougher-than-expected test Tuesday night, visits Auburn Arena Saturday to complete the Tigers’ six-game homestand.
In his sophomore year, Denson scored at least 17 points twice … in 30 tries. The Columbus Shaw product’s already gotten there twice in his first three games of 2012-13, rewarding the trust of Auburn coaches and teammates by increasing his output with each encore.
Denson poured in 20 points Tuesday (one shy of his career-high), following up his 17-point effort Saturday against Furman. He opened with 13 against Grambling State eight days ago in his season debut, after sitting out the first seven games while academically ineligible.
“(We’re) a lot better, and Chris Denson has a lot to do with that,” Barbee said. “He is one of those guys with swagger. He plays with a feeling that he is as good as anyone out there on the court, and he wants to prove it. That feeling is contagious.”
Nicknamed a “one-man fastbreak” by his teammates, Denson’s first-half posterizing of Tech’s Matt Marseille had Auburn fans lighting up Twitter begging for an appearance on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.
Denson took a breakout pass from Allen Payne, cut diagonally toward the lane and threw down the hammer, drawing the foul from Marseille, a raucous ovation from the 4,323 in attendance and a shocked expression on Payne’s face as he mouthed “Omigod” twice in reaction.
“I saw the dude coming, chopping his feet trying to block it,” Denson said. “I guess he thought I couldn’t jump or something.”
Late Tuesday night, Denson’s dunk was indeed featured as the ESPN’s No. 1 play of the night.
“That’s by far,” Denson concluded, “the nastiest dunk I’ve ever had.”
Although what Price accomplished wasn’t as visually enticing, it brought down the house just as effectively.
The reigning SEC Men’s Basketball Freshman of the Week, Price knocked down three 3-pointers in 61 seconds, combing with three free throws for a quick and personal 12-2 run that extended a 6-4 lead up to 18-6 seven and a half minutes into the game.
The third triple made Price 11-for-11 in Auburn’s last three games, the longest streak in school history. It tied the SEC standard (Kevin Anglin, in 1992 over two games for Vanderbilt) and left the true freshman four short of Northwestern’s Todd Leslie, who connected on 15 straight over a four-game period in 1990.
Price hasn’t just made the 11. He’s swished the 11, barely rattling any rims or needing a lucky backboard bounce.
“Probably in practice, but never in games,” Price answered as to whether he’s felt this hot before. “It’s a good feeling. I’m just happy to be making them for my teammates and helping my teammates win.”
Price was whistled for a technical foul after the third straight 3, letting his celebration get the best of him.
“I just got a little bit too excited,” Price said. “They were also talking a little trash, so I got involved in it, but I know I shouldn’t have, and my coaches talked to me afterward. I’m going to do better.”
Price did not attempt another shot the rest of the game and settled for 12 points.
“It told him to be smarter. Bad players do what he did,” Barbee said. “You are hot and now you bark at the other teams’ coaches? Good players know how good they are and they let their game do the talking. That’s a maturity deal. That was a teaching moment for him.”
Tennessee Tech (6-5) opponents entered Tuesday shooting 29.1 percent from beyond the arc, but the Tigers shredded the Golden Eagles’ perimeter defense on 7-for-18 shooting.
Diminutive senior guard Josh Wallace produced season-highs with 11 points and seven assists. The Tigers made 30 of 40 free throws, after starting 6-for-12.
Auburn survived an off night from its primary two veterans – guard Frankie Sullivan and center Rob Chubb combined for 12 points on 12 shots from the floor.
Barbee, self-admittedly a coach who seeks out the warts after a win, demanded more out of his senior captains.
“I have to find a way to get Frankie, at (point guard), to play better. These last three games, I can recall him missing 15 wide-open threes,” Barbee said. “Maybe my expectations are too high, but I need a whole lot more from Rob than what he is giving us.”