BY AARON BRENNER | email@example.com
AUBURN, Ala. – Desperate for answers which have remained evilly buried the longest seven weeks of his life, Auburn senior guard Frankie Sullivan was advised by assistant coach Tony Madlock to go watch his old high school game film.
Sullivan didn’t have any, but he really didn’t need it. It wasn’t difficult to remember.
The nostalgia was like Chicken Soup for the Basketball Soul.
“That’s when (I) played the freest,” Sullivan said. “In high school, you just go out and you play. It’s not that big of a deal if you go out there and you’re not scoring – it’s just having fun. I got away from having fun in the game; not just scoring, but with my passion, diving, taking charges, that’s the stuff that gets me going.”
Sullivan’s senior year scoring stats throw conventional logic into the sink disposal. Head coach Tony Barbee was the first to point out Sullivan remains the Tigers’ leading scorer both in all games (14.2 points) and SEC play (11.2), but he hasn’t led the Tigers in points in more than a month.
Sullivan’s played all 28 games, and in nearly the entire second half of that span – the past 13 contests – he hasn’t once topped 14 points, which, again, is his scoring average for the season.
Inexplicable, for a guy used to hitting 20-foot jumpers falling out of bed in the morning.
“It’s like Flubber’s on the ball, and you just can’t get it to go in,” Sullivan said. “I really don’t understand.”
Revived after serious knee surgery in July 2010, Sullivan looked like a bona fide all-SEC contender when he topped 20 points eight times in his first 13 games.
Now, as Sullivan’s final game at Auburn Arena beckons (9 p.m. ET, CSS), he wants one thing, and one thing only for the Tigers (9-19, 3-13 SEC).
“Just a win,” Sullivan said. “I don’t care about the scoring or anything like that. I can start the game or sit on the bench, or not play in the game. If we come away with a victory, I just want to leave with a victory, leave people happy, give them something to show that the seniors are all fighting, that we’re not giving up on this program.”
It will not come easily. Tennessee (17-11, 9-7) is dangerous in every sense – the Volunteers won six straight games in late February, they’ve dominated Auburn in the series (71-37 historically, and the last four meetings by an average of 15.8 points), and most importantly, they’re currently Joe Lunardi’s very, very, very last team in to the NCAA tournament in the ESPN bracketologist’s projections.
But on the other hand, Barbee is 2-0 on Auburn’s Senior Night. The Tigers beat Ole Miss 76-73 his first season, and Auburn throttled LSU 67-52 last year.
Barbee expressed appreciation for sticking with their new head coach. Jeff Lebo was fired shortly following the 2009-10 season – Sullivan’s sophomore year, and the freshman year of Rob Chubb, Josh Wallace and four-year walk-on Dylan Spencer.
Noel Johnson transferred from Clemson as part of Barbee’s first incoming class.
Barbee’s goal tonight is, simply, the same as Sullivan’s.
“I hope they walk out with a win,” Barbee said. “It was the same challenge I put to our group of seniors last year, and they delivered. I wanted them to have that last feeling in front of their fans.”
No matter what happens, Sullivan and his fellow four seniors will march out in their pregame processional. He said Monday he wouldn’t lend too much thought to the occasion until the night of the game.
He’ll be thinking of what has been over the past five years – plenty of bad, but plenty of good, too.
“I really enjoyed my ride here. It’s been unbelievable for me. I wouldn’t take nothing back, nothing at all,” Sullivan said. “Auburn has been a great university; not only taught me things on the court, but off the court. The education I got is second to none. I thank Auburn for that, thank Auburn for what it’s done.”