BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – This time, the presence of former Auburn football greats in the house couldn’t conjure up a comeback victory for their alma mater’s basketball team.
Shooting woes continue to plague the Tigers, losers of seven straight and 13 of 14 following their 62-55 defeat to visiting Vanderbilt Saturday night at Auburn Arena.
The Tigers have failed to shoot 40 percent from the floor in five consecutive games. Over that stretch, which does include three home games, Auburn has shot 35.7 percent from the floor, and a paltry 18.9 percent from 3-point range.
Head coach Tony Barbee’s postgame demeanor oozed a man who has run out of solutions – or attempts at them.
“This game is about confidence. It makes the difference between All-Americans and the Average Joe,” Barbee said. “You’ve got to believe that you’re the baddest guy walking on that floor – not out of arrogance, but out of your hard work.
“When they shot the ball, they looked like they were guys who have confidence shooting the ball. We had guys playing tentatively offensively.”
Auburn is assured of its third 20-loss season in school history – including two of the last three years encompassing Barbee’s tenure. Barbee, in his first 50 games against SEC opponents, has twelve victories.
Insisting they’d try their hardest to finish strong and create whatever degree of March Madness they could, and briefly following through with an early 12-5 lead, the Tigers were down 26-17 at the half.
The last time Auburn’s offensive sputtered aimlessly in the first half to less than 20 points on its home floor, special guest Cam Newton riled the crowd and lifted the Tigers to a second-half rally Feb. 6 vs. Alabama.
While Chris Denson (Shaw) did his best to carry Auburn to another comeback, Vandy (13-15, 7-9 SEC) wouldn’t relent, sealing its eighth consecutive triumph over the Tigers (9-20, 3-13).
The Tigers are now in a three-way tie for last place in the SEC, knotted with South Carolina and Mississippi State. Auburn hosts Tennessee, fighting to bolster its NCAA tournament resume, Wednesday on Senior Night before a regular season-ending trip to Mississippi State.
This is not a misprint: Auburn went 13 minutes, 34 seconds of game clock in between baskets, consuming both halves.
Bridging a pair of Denson baskets, the Tigers missed 17 consecutive shots.
“There’s not much I say offensively unless I see a guy being selfish – which we don’t have many guys being selfish,” Barbee said. “It’s effort, defense, toughness. Got nothing to do with offense. You’ve got to go make it happen.”
It’s not like Vanderbilt took the opportunity to run and hide – suffering from its own offensive troubles and dealing with Auburn’s rejuvenated defense – but the Commodores enjoyed a 20-1 run, flipping a five-point deficit into a cushiony double-digit lead.
“Words can’t describe it,” senior guard Josh Wallace said. “We did good on the defensive side. We’re getting good looks, just got to knock them down.”
Denson (a game-high 16 points) took it upon himself to give Auburn some semblance of offense. He threw down his second alley-oop of the game, and followed with his seventh 3-pointer of the season, to draw Auburn within 37-33 with just over ten minutes remaining.
“(After) my two-game slump at Ole Miss and Alabama, I tried to make it my duty today to come out and bring the extra spark,” Denson said. “I think when you see me play, I play with a lot of confidence.”
That’s as close as Auburn got, with Vandy responding every time Auburn made a mini-run and rose the 7,295 listed attendance to its collective feet. The Commodores’ two leading scorers, Kedren Johnson and Rod Odom, were a combined 5-for-22 from the floor, but freshman guard Kevin Bright was 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Believe it or not, Auburn (35.7 percent) actually outshot Vandy (32.7 percent) from the floor. But the Commodores were 10-for-26 from deep, and hit 20 free throws.
Frankie Sullivan continued to languish at the heart of Auburn’s struggles, going 2-for-9 with seven points. He has not matched or exceeded his team-leading scoring average (14.2 points) since Jan. 16, when the 1-13 skid began.
Former Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes, who just became the first Tiger to win both a BCS title and Super Bowl championship, was back visiting the Plains a month after reaching the football mountaintop with the Baltimore Ravens.
And he wasn’t even close to the most famous Auburn alum in the building. Bo Jackson parked himself in a white button-down and black cap along the north baseline with his family, the 1985 Heisman winner taking in some hoops and serving as the celebrity letter, before taking a cruise through the AU Jungle student section.
The 1962-63 Auburn basketball team gathered for a 50-year reunion, and was recognized in a halftime ceremony. That squad, representing Joel Eaves’ final season at the helm, went 18-4, including 10-4 in the SEC.