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January 26, 2013

Scuffling Auburn hoops, loser of three straight, hopes for déjà vu against No. 23 Ole Miss

AUBURN, Ala. — Nearly a year ago, the No. 23-ranked team in the country traveled from Mississippi to Auburn Arena, where the Tigers greeted their guest with an upset in mind.

On Feb. 18, 2012, Auburn knocked off No. 23 Mississippi State 65-55, the last time Auburn upended a ranked opponent.

Auburn takes aim at No. 23 Ole Miss Saturday at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports Net, and the underdog is trending in a vastly different direction from the Rebels (16-2, 5-0 SEC), winners of eight straight games.

Meanwhile, all momentum gained from a three-game winning streak has escaped Auburn (8-10, 2-3), following a particularly disappointing defeat at Vanderbilt in which the young Commodores outhustled the normally gritty Tigers.

“We go back home,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said after Wednesday’s loss, “and we have to get our mojo back, because right now we don’t have it.”

The leading scorer in the SEC suits up for Ole Miss. Marshall Henderson had fans buzzing after pouring in 24 of his game-high 28 points Thursday to lift the Rebels 62-56 over Tennessee. Henderson’s averaging 19.4 points, edging out his nearest competitors, including Auburn senior Frankie Sullivan (17.2 points).

“Not only do they have one of the best frontlines in the country, but they have a dynamic scorer who is capable of going and getting 40 at any point,” Barbee said. “That is why they are undefeated in the league and one of the best teams in the conference.”

Henderson’s a junior college transfer, and Ole Miss is otherwise littered with experience.

“Ole Miss has a bunch of guys that — they see a guy like Frankie Sullivan and say ‘How long has that guy been there? It seems like he’s been there for 10 years.’ — that’s the same thing with Ole Miss,” Barbee said, listing seniors Murphy Holloway, Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams.

The Tigers’ veterans haven’t been shabby, though Sullivan has had his ups and downs trying to carry the shooting and distributing load on offense. Fellow senior Rob Chubb has manned the center position statistically, gobbling up 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in five games while shooting 59.1 percent.

But rebounding generally has been an issue for the Tigers, leading Barbee to suggest he could play Chubb and his backup, Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, on the floor together.

The status of junior Chris Denson (Shaw High) and freshman Jordan Price will be murky into the weekend, with both guards ineffective in their premature returns from stress fractures in each player’s foot.

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