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February 2, 2013

Auburn loses sixth straight; frustrated Barbee might hand keys to younger players

Staff report

Missouri is a seamless symphony of scoring in transition.

Auburn is a basketball program in transition – with its head coach putting the veterans on notice.

Junior guard Earnest Ross haunted his former squad Saturday, catching fire early with a couple of wide-open threes and finishing with a season-best 23 points in No. 17 Missouri’s 91-77 victory Saturday afternoon at Mizzou Arena.

Allowing 91 points is a season-worst for Auburn (8-13, 2-6 SEC) – which lost its sixth straight game – permitting its host to shoot 55 percent, helped by 42 points in the paint.

“We just couldn’t guard the ball,” frustrated Auburn coach Tony Barbee said on his postgame radio appearance. “It wasn’t like we were making them go wide with three dribbles – it was straight drives right down the middle of the lane. It’s hard to help from the bigs.”

In fact, Mizzou (16-5, 5-3) was 30-for-55 from the floor, identical marks to Kentucky in its 75-53 win at Auburn Arena two weeks ago.

“You can be a really good team when nobody’s guarding you,” Barbee said. “It’s easy to score when you get to play against us – maybe the worst defense in the SEC.”

Freshman Brian Greene Jr. continues to make the most of limited minutes, tallying nine points and three assists off the bench. By making two of three 3-pointers, Greene now is 9-for-14 in SEC games.

Senior Frankie Sullivan picked up two early fouls, sitting out most the first half but cobbling together a team-best 12 points. Rob Chubb also was saddled with foul issues throughout the afternoon, but chipped in 10 points making all six free-throw tries.

“It might be time to look at these young guys and get them more minutes,” Barbee indicated. “Our older guys aren’t getting it done.”

Ross led Auburn in scoring, rebounding, 3-pointers, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage in the 2010-11 season.

But Ross decided at the end of his freshman year to leave the program, the shooting guard ultimately latching on with a different set of Tigers.

Nearly two years ago to the day, Ross rocked the scoreboard with 30 points for Auburn, albeit in an 81-72 overtime loss at Georgia. That’s the only other time Ross has exceeded 22 points, but he made 8 of 12 field goals, including 5-for-6 from distance.

Ross, who jawed with Auburn freshman Shaq Johnson with each being slapped with a technical foul, had to take glee in kicking his old team when it’s down. And Auburn’s way down right now.

It’s the second 6-game losing streak in the Tony Barbee era, and the Tigers are still tumbling against average (or better) competition. Since Barbee was brought on board, Auburn is 10-40 against teams with an RPI in the top 150.

Missouri’s Keion Bell led all players with 24 points, and Phil Pressey handed out 10 assists.

At least for a day, Auburn’s free-throw woes are in the past. Lugging a 62 percent clip into Saturday, the Tigers were a season-sterling 32-for-36 from the line.

Regardless of record, a big game awaits Auburn: rival Alabama comes calling to Auburn Arena Wednesday night, with tipoff set for 8 p.m. ET to cap off National Signing Day.

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