AUBURN, Ala. – In its past 16 games – going back to the week before Christmas – Auburn has led just three times at the half.
All three times were at home, vs. Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M, and all three halftime leads were by two points. And, capitalizing the trend, Auburn couldn’t finish off a victory in any of the efforts.
Texas A&M sent the Tigers’ season spiraling further south with a 65-56 victory Wednesday night at Auburn Arena.
“We’re not a very good team right now, I’m not a very good coach with this team,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “It’s disappointing.”
Texas A&M (16-10, 6-7 SEC) missed its first 13 shots from the floor, spotting Auburn a 12-0 lead. But the large lead was gone well before the conclusion of the first half.
Barbee, desperate to find some rhythm or chemistry on the court, called for a total of 44 substitutions – treating his bench like a hockey coach with miniature line changes. By comparison, A&M coach Billy Kennedy had 21 players check in.
As a result, the individual scoring did end up balanced. Junior forward Allen Payne was the top Tiger with 11 points, tying the lowest point total for an Auburn (9-17, 3-10) leading scorer this year.
“Guys aren’t playing well, so they’ve got to come out of the game,” Barbee said. “If they’re not going to defend, they come right out of the game. If they’re not going to dive on the floor for loose balls, they come right out of the game. If they don’t pursue every rebound, they come out of the game. That’s why.”
Rob Chubb, Chris Denson and Jordan Price each contributed nine points.
Auburn suffered from a 4-minute, 35-second field-goal drought in the last five minutes, which permitted the Aggies to stretch a 53-51 lead to a seven-point advantage.
“Collectively, the effort’s not good,” Barbee said. “And the leadership is not good. When the leadership comes from the staff, then you’re not going to be a very good team. It’s when the players take ownership, and it doesn’t have to come from your seniors, because obviously our seniors aren’t doing it. I’m waiting for somebody to grab it, and nobody’s stepping up.”
The Tigers, again, had their chances. With just more than six minutes left, Aggies swingman Alex Caruso tried to dunk in transition, and missed badly. Auburn got the ball back, and Payne drove baseline and threw down the left-handed hammer to bring Auburn within two points and reviving the intimate crowd.
But instead of seizing the momentum, Auburn allowed a dunk to Texas A&M’s Ray Turner, thus allowing the Aggies to stay on top.
– Frankie Sullivan was reinserted to the starting lineup, after coming off the bench the previous two games. Sullivan had started his previous 36 games going back to last year, and took the place of Denson, Auburn’s leading scorer the past three games entering Wednesday. Sullivan finished with seven points, on 2-of-9 shooting.
– Unless Auburn wins out its SEC schedule and LSU loses the rest of its games, Auburn is assured of playing in the SEC tournament’s ‘first four’ on Weds. March 13.
– The Tigers, going winless on this recent 3-game homestand, now travel on Saturday to Ole Miss, fighting for its NCAA tournament life after a close loss at South Carolina.
“I’m going to keep fighting,” Barbee said. “Because that’s what I am. I’m going to find out who’s going to fight with me.”