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July 21, 2013

Former Auburn hoops star Korvotney Barber found dead after apparent drowning in Panama City Beach

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

Former Auburn basketball star Korvotney Barber was found dead from an apparent drowning on Sunday in Panama City Beach, Fla.

Auburn Basketball

The body of former Auburn basketball player Korvotney Barber was discovered Sunday evening after an apparent drowning off Panama City Beach, Fla. He played for the Tigers from 2005-09.

Cpl. Jason Gleason of the Panama City Beach (Fla.) Police Department confirmed Barber’s body was found between the Boardwalk Beach Condominiums and the nearby Top of the Gulf Condominiums by a passing civilian at 4:49 p.m. (ET), seconds after he washed ashore.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the devastatingly tragic and untimely death of Korvotney Barber,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said in an official university release Sunday. “The Auburn Family remembers ‘Vot’ as a relentless competitor with the heart of a champion. More importantly, those who knew him best remember him as a caring father who deeply loved his children and his family. Korvotney’s family and friends will remain in our thoughts and prayers during this profoundly sad time.”

According to police, Barber went missing at approximately 7:09 p.m. Saturday after going into the water with his wife and another friend, despite the beach being under double red flag conditions. Double red flags are posted to signal that the beach is closed and the public is forbidden to enter the water due to strong rip tides.

Thirty minutes after he was first reported missing Saturday, a search party consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Wildlife Commission and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office helicopter set out to look for Barber. Gleason said the helicopter had to be grounded later due to inclement weather in the area.

The 26-year-old Manchester native starred at Manchester High School, earning numerous honors during his senior campaign in 2004-05, when he posted averages of 20 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks per game. That season, he led Manchester to a 22-4 overall record and a Class AA Sweet 16 appearance en route to garnering the Gatorade Player of the Year for Georgia and being selected as a McDonald’s All-American. Barber was also a member of the Georgia Blazers, a Columbus-based AAU team.

At Auburn, Barber averaged 10.9 points and 7.2 rebounds during his four-year career under former coach Jeff Lebo. His senior season in 2008-09 nearly saw him average a double-double, tallying 12.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

“The Auburn basketball program is deeply saddened to lose one its great players in Korvotney ‘Vot’ Barber,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said in a statement. “I was fortunate enough to meet ‘Vot’ just last week when he stopped by my office to introduce himself to me. What an impressive guy. Our prayers are with his family and loved ones.”

Barber went overseas after graduating from Auburn, playing for the Lugano Tigers, a team based in Switzerland. The Tigers finished with a 16-9 overall record this past season, good enough for second in the Swiss League’s Division A, the more prestigious of the league’s two divisions. Barber was the team’s third-leading scorer at 13.2 points per game and tied for the team-high in rebounds, grabbing 7.4 per contest.

Barber’s final game came against the Geneve Lions on May 31, which happened to be the deciding contest of the Swiss League’s best-of-five championship series.

In that game, Barber scored 10 points and collected six rebounds.

April 19, 2013

Jordan Price will transfer from Auburn

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

Florida Auburn BasketballAUBURN, Ala. – There is now room to accommodate all six of Auburn’s basketball newcomers, as freshman shooting guard Jordan Price will transfer out of the program.

An Auburn spokesperson confirmed the initial report Friday night by AuburnSports.com, which quoted Price’s father, Reaman.

Price was one of the two prizes of head coach Tony Barbee’s 2012 recruiting class, joining swingman Shaq Johnson with a four-star rating out of Decatur, Ga.

Price tied an SEC record by making 11 consecutive 3-pointers against lesser non-conference competition, but the potential for a breakout rookie year was stunted by a stress fracture in his foot suffered Christmas week.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound shooter averaged 5.4 points in 27 games, ranking fifth on the Tigers, and shot 39 percent from 3-point range. His 30 triples trailed only Frankie Sullivan and Noel Johnson, both outgoing seniors.

In the locker room following Auburn’s SEC tournament loss ending the season at 9-23, Price was less committal about returning than fellow freshmen Shaq Johnson and Brian Greene Jr. But he did say, “I feel pretty good about the future. A lot of the season was lessons for the future, so we know what not to do. We’re going to get back in the gym and get ready for next year.”

Auburn has seven scholarship players returning from last year’s roster, including slashing guard Chris Denson, shooting guard KT Harrell and combo guard Brian Greene Jr.

Three incoming recruits signed their letters of intent in November (PG Tajh Shamsid-Deen, C Benas Griciunas and C Ronald Delph), and Auburn unveiled the bios Friday for its latest signees this week. Two of them represented another country’s junior national team: center Matthew Atewe (Canada) and guard Dion Wade (Belgium), accompanied by forward Chris Griffin, who played at Murray State in 2011-12.

April 14, 2013

Auburn basketball over the scholarship limit on current players, prospective commits

Tony BarbeeBY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Something’s going to have to give.

As the first day of spring signing period approaches within 72 hours, the Auburn men’s basketball plan presently has one too many scholarship players, following the verbal commitment of junior college small forward Chris Griffin Sunday morning, as first reported by the recruiting web sites covering Auburn.

Eight Tigers on the current roster are on scholarship (including KT Harrell, who sat out 2012-13 due to transfer rules after arriving from Virginia), three more signed an early national letter of intent in November, and now three others have said they plan to sign with Auburn as early as Wednesday.

That adds up to 14 players on scholarship. The Division I limit is 13.

These are Auburn’s options: a verbal commitment backs out; a commitment grayshirts, delaying his recruitment for the class of 2014; a current player transfers; or the coaching staff removes a current player’s scholarship, since technically all NCAA scholarships are valid for one season (it’s allowed but unlikely, since the vast majority of 1-year arrangements are renewed each season.)

None of the six newcomers boast higher than a three-star rating via Scout.com, Rivals.com and 247Sports.com recruiting lists.

The Tigers graduated four scholarship players this past year – guards Frankie Wallace, Josh Wallace and Noel Johnson, and forward Rob Chubb.

Guard Chris Denson, forward Allen Payne and center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum will be in their final year of eligibility next winter, in head coach Tony Barbee’s fourth season.

Athletic director Jay Jacobs released a statement March 15 confirming Barbee would be back, despite his 35-59 three-year record and guiding the Tigers to a tie for the most losses in SEC single-season history.

“My expectation is for our program to show significant improvement under Coach Barbee’s leadership,” Jacobs wrote. “Coach Barbee and I will continue to work together to support our basketball program at the highest level so we can give our fans the kind of program they expect and deserve.”

Departures from the program have plagued Barbee’s three seasons, ranging from players transferring elsewhere to signees failing to qualify academically.

In the locker room following Auburn’s SEC Tournament opening-round loss to Texas A&M in Nashville on March 13, the younger players just completing their freshman year were united in vowing to return.

“I’m pretty sure this whole group will stick together,” then-freshman point guard Brian Greene Jr. said. “We’ve got a brotherhood that can’t be broken.”

Added fellow rookie Shaq Johnson, who started 21 games at small forward: “Oh no, no. I’m at Auburn. I’m here. I like Auburn, so I’m not going anywhere.”

Barbee routinely arranged his weekly schedule around recruiting trips, and quickly left with an assistant coach to recruit before his postgame media remarks after an 88-55 loss at Ole Miss on Feb. 23.

“With the guys we’ve got coming in,” Barbee said March 13, “I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we’re headed.”

Barbee will next be available to speak with reporters after the signing class is complete, a date yet to be determined.

Signing period closes May 15.

**

Here’s the prospective list of Auburn’s 2013-14 roster, broken down by position:

Point guard: Brian Greene Jr. (soph.), Tajh Shamsid-Deen (signed in November)

Shooting guard: Chris Denson (sr.), KT Harrell (jr.), Jordan Price (soph.)

Small forward: Allen Payne (sr.), Shaquille Johnson (soph.), Dion Wade (verbal commit), Chris Griffin (junior college verbal commit)

Power forward: Jordon Granger (soph.), Matthew Atewe (verbal commit)

Center: Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (sr.), Benas Griciunas (signed in November), Ronald Delph (signed in November)

March 15, 2013

Jacobs: “Coach Barbee and I will continue to work together to support our basketball program at the highest level”

Tony Barbee

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — In his second public statement regarding the men’s basketball program – and first released directly to the media, about 20 minutes after the baseball team’s first pitch of the SEC schedule – Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs voiced his support for head coach Tony Barbee at the conclusion of his third year overseeing the Tigers.

“This was obviously a disappointing season for our men’s basketball program, but I want to commend our players and especially our seniors for playing hard all year,” Jacobs said.

Auburn went 9-23 this year, tied for the most losses ever by an SEC program. Its 3-15 conference mark, last place in the 14-team standings, dropped Barbee to 12-38 in league play since his 2010 hiring, and the Tigers have been bounced in the first round of the SEC tournament each of those three seasons.

“My expectation is for our program to show significant improvement under Coach Barbee’s leadership,” Jacobs said. “Coach Barbee and I will continue to work together to support our basketball program at the highest level so we can give our fans the kind of program they expect and deserve.”

In the past 13 months, Jacobs has had to replace women’s basketball coach Nell Fortner, who resigned in February 2012, and fired football coach Gene Chizik in December. Barbee has four seasons left on his $1.5 million annual contract, which has a $750,000 yearly buyout clause.

March 14, 2013

Plenty of turnover in previous years, but Auburn hopes this group sticks together

Auburn vs Texas A&M

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

NASHVILLE – The transfer giveth, the transfer taketh away.

Mostly, the war of addition versus attrition has been acrimonious to Auburn basketball in three years under head coach Tony Barbee.

The hardest hit was in May 2011, when top scorer Earnest Ross and Ty Armstrong decided after one year in the Barbee system to play elsewhere. Ross is one of six Missouri players averaging double-digit points, while Armstrong averaged 9.2 points on 56 percent shooting for East Carolina this year.

Andre Malone, belonging to that same Jeff Lebo 2009 signing class with Ross and Armstrong, transferred to Rhode Island. Malone was the Rams’ No. 2-leading scorer, helping Rhode Island knock off host Auburn 78-72 on Nov. 25.

Also, center Willy Kouassi and forward Bernard Morena transferred out of the program last March, ending up at Kennesaw State.

So there’s a certain sense of pride for Frankie Sullivan and Rob Chubb – admittedly disgusted with the travesty that was their senior season, a 9-23 effort ending in Wednesday’s SEC Tournament play-in defeat to Texas A&M, 71-62.

At least they stuck with it, when five former teammates didn’t.

“People are always looking for a grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side type of scenario,” Chubb said. “I’m not the type of person to just leave something I started unfinished. I wanted to get everything done that I started here at Auburn.

“I love Auburn, and just didn’t want to leave.”

On to next year. One of the first orders of business, somewhere between cleaning out lockers and grinding in the gym toward a 2013-14 renaissance, is keeping this group together.

Barbee remains optimistic going forward, encouraged by four freshmen who took their lumps they hope are masked as growing pains.

“With the guys we’ve got coming in,” Barbee said, “I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we’re headed.”

Nobody in the Tigers’ postgame locker room Wednesday seemed to doubt for a moment anybody was looking for a way out.

Auburn vs Texas A&M“Back then, there was conversation about people leaving,” said junior guard Chris Denson, referring to prior seasons. “But you never hear it with this group right here. Nobody’s leaving. Everybody’s going to be in the same spot they’re in right now.”

“I feel pretty good about the future,” said freshman shooting guard Jordan Price, who tied an SEC record with 11 consecutive threes but mysteriously misplaced his shot after that December hot streak. “A lot of the season was lessons for the future, so we know what not to do. We’re going to get back in the gym and get ready for next year.”

“I’m pretty sure this whole group will stick together,” said freshman point guard Brian Greene Jr., whose minutes yo-yoed all year long.

“We’ve got a brotherhood that can’t be broken.”

Simply-spoken Shaq Johnson, a swingman who started 21 games, was even more direct when asked if he or his 2012 classmates had entertained the thought of leaving.

“Oh no, no. I’m at Auburn. I’m here,” Johnson said. “I like Auburn, so I’m not going anywhere.”

Those free-willing transfers, Ross and the others, weren’t the only plagues on Auburn’s scholarship numbers.

Forward Josh Langford and guard Cedrick McAfee were dismissed from the program by Barbee in April 2012 for violation of team rules, and forward Shareif Adamu followed suit three months ago. Guard Varez Ward did not return to the team after falling under reported investigation for point shaving last March.

Luke Cothron and Shawn Kemp Jr. never made it to Auburn after signing, failing to qualify academically.

On the other hand, outgoing senior Noel Johnson left Clemson midway through the 2010-11 season, and a week later, his transfer to Auburn was announced. KT Harrell withdrew from Virginia in December 2011, and the following summer was on his way to the Plains, an expected contributor for next year after sitting out 2012-13 due to NCAA transfer rules.

Both Johnson and Harrell were in search of more playing time and a faster, up-tempo style of basketball.

Noel Johnson said he hasn’t discussed his experience with younger teammates, but he does have advice for them.

“You came in together, you might as well finish out together and graduate,” he said. “Just stay in touch with each other, no matter what.”

Barbee: “I take full responsibility” for 9-23 year

Auburn vs Texas A&M

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

NASHVILLE – So now that it’s complete, the three-year book on Tony Barbee is officially … well, not something to boast about.

A 35-59 overall record. 12-38 in SEC games, and that doesn’t include three first-round bounce-outs from the SEC tournament. Two 20-loss seasons in three campaigns, including this year’s 9-23 disaster which matches LSU in 1966-67 for the most defeats ever for an SEC squad.

Barbee had high hopes for his third outfit. Pooh-poohed the preseason notion Auburn would finish near last place. Of course, the Tigers proved the critics wrong – they finished in last place, for the first time in five seasons.

Always a fighter, Barbee insists he’s the man to fix this fractured program.

“Nobody’s expectations can be higher than mine. I’m disappointed in the year we had, we’re all frustrated in the year we had, and as the coach of the program, I take full responsibility for it,” Barbee said after the 16th loss in 17 games, a 71-62 loss to Texas A&M in Wednesday’s SEC Tournament late-night play-in game at Bridgestone Arena.

“That’s all on me, and I told my guys that. But I told the guys, I didn’t coach them very well this year. So I apologized to them. There’s a challenge for them to get better, there’s a challenge for me to get better. And we’re going to do that.”

A $3 million buyout option with four years remaining on his $1.5 million annual contract may buoy his job security. Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs was on hand in Nashville, but was not in the visiting squad’s locker room for postgame comment.

“That’s not for me to judge. I’m proud of the direction we’re going,” Barbee said. “It’s not always the wins and losses that prove the progression. Sometimes when you’re in a rebuilding mode, you’re going to take some steps back, before you get flying forward. That’s the process we’re in.”

Barbee acknowledged while his job description is multi-faceted, he’s ultimately judged on wins and losses. Rather than sulk in yet another trip to the latter, Barbee already seemed anticipatory of the year (or years) to come.

“I’m so disappointed that we’re not playing tomorrow. There’s nobody that’s more of a competitor than me, so I’m absolutely disappointed this season is over,” Barbee said. “And it’s evidenced by, you saw how my team fought today. They fought for each other. We played hard all year long. It just … it didn’t go the way we all wanted, and that comes back on me.”

Senior center Rob Chubb, not one to throw a longtime leader to the wolves but also no longer in a position to fear penance with his Auburn career through, spoke to why Barbee deserved a fourth season.

“Yeah. Definitely. I mean, he’s a great coach,” Chubb said. “If we just did all the things that he tells us to do, then it would be a lot easier game on us. It’s just mental mistakes, little breakdowns here and there end up in the snowball effect, into a bigger problem than it should be.”

Why is this Barbee’s task, and nobody else’s, to rebuild the Tigers?

“Because I’m confident in myself,” Barbee said. “I’ve won everywhere I’ve been. And we’re going to win at Auburn.”

March 13, 2013

No. 14 seed Auburn holding out hope

Vandy Auburn

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – It’s a common cliché. However, Auburn’s got little choice left but to go with it.

“Absolutely, you throw the records out the window. You throw the league standings out the window,” head coach Tony Barbee said. “Once you get into that conference tournament play, anything can happen.”

The numbered seeds preceding all fourteen SEC teams are merely a point of reference; they signify how the regular season unfolded, but there’s no impact on the SEC tournament games.

Auburn (9-22, 3-15 SEC) is the first-ever No. 14 seed in this bracket’s history, and it will take four upset victories to rewrite history in a good way for the first time this season.

The opening foe is No. 11 Texas A&M (17-14, 7-11), which expects to have its banged-up star Elston Turner (broken left pinky) ready to play Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET (SEC Network) at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

Capsules: Seth Emerson breaks down the 14 SEC Tournament teams

On Feb. 25, Tigers freshman guard Brian Greene Jr. told reporters to remember Georgia in the 2008 SEC tournament, when despite finishing last in the SEC East, the Bulldogs stormed to a league title and NCAA automatic bid.

On Monday, Barbee pointed out Liberty, who the previous day knocked off Charleston Southern to win the Big South Tournament. Liberty’s 6-10 Big South record finished 10th in the 12-team league, and the Flames will be the second 20-loss team (15-20) ever to play in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s just a matter of if you believe, if the players believe, if they believe in each other,” said Barbee, whose team has lost nine straight and 15 of 16.

“I’ve always said that the teams this time of year that are excited about coming to the gym, being around each other and continuing their season, are usually the teams that continue on.”

In their only regular season meeting this year, Turner scored 21 points in Texas A&M’s 65-56 victory at Auburn Arena – despite the Aggies missing their first 13 shots from the floor. Afterward, Barbee admitted “I’m not a very good coach with this team … it’s disappointing.”

On Monday, Barbee said, “We made a lot of mistakes defensively in that game – just unforced errors that gave them crucial baskets, especially going down the stretch. So we’ll watch the clips with the team, and hopefully we don’t make those same errors.”

Losing 74-71 in overtime to lowly Mississippi State in their last regular season game, the primary bright spot was career-high marks for junior guard Chris Denson with 24 points and nine rebounds.

Denson’s season has been a roller-coaster, the Tigers’ most consistent player when he hasn’t missed games due to academic suspension, a stress fracture in his foot or back spasms.

“Chris played great. He was being aggressive, he was attacking the rim and he was finishing,” Barbee said. “I think a lot of that had to do with how they played defensively, (which) led to him getting the cracks in the door that he needs as a slasher.

“We not only need him to play at a high level – we need some other guys to step up and play at a high level.”

March 11, 2013

Barbee focused on Texas A&M, not on his long-term job security; SEC weekly honorees continue to feast on Auburn basketball

Tony Barbee

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Back when his former head football coach found himself on the hot seat, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs stated he assesses each head coach in the department after every season in regards to their job status.

That coach, Gene Chizik, was fired the day after his season was over. It seems unlikely Tony Barbee will face the same fate a few days from now, but the Tigers’ men’s basketball coach is overseeing one of the lowest regimes in program history.

“He hasn’t given me his feedback,” Barbee said Monday afternoon, asked about Jacobs. “He’s asked me where I think the team is heading into Texas A&M.”

The Tigers (9-22, 3-15 SEC) have one final chance make something of the season, serving as the first-ever No. 14 seed in the SEC men’s basketball tournament Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET in Nashville taking on new conference member Texas A&M.

Walking off the court at Humphrey Coliseum following Auburn’s 74-71 overtime loss to Mississippi State – in a battle to stay out of last place in the SEC standings – Barbee answered a question whether he was worried about his job status with “No. Not at all.”

Two days later, the question repeated in terms of Jacobs’ feedback about the future, Barbee said, “We haven’t had conversations about that.”

Auburn has lost nine straight games, and 15 of 16, to complete the program’s weakest conference result by winning percentage since 1988-89 (2-16) and second-worst in 75 years. Barbee’s composite league record (12-38) is the worst three-year SEC stretch the program’s ever seen.

Asked if he’s had trouble getting players to buy in at this juncture, Barbee said, “I haven’t seen that as an issue.”

Aggies shorthanded? No. 11 seed Texas A&M (17-14, 7-11) could be a different team without Elston Turner, who told A&M reporters he broke his left pinky finger when he was “karate-chopped” while dribbling against LSU last Wednesday.

He missed Saturday’s game at Arkansas, but plans to play Wednesday night in the SEC tournament.

Outscored in the SEC only by Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss, Turner (19.4 points per game) poured in 21 points against Auburn in the Aggies’ 65-56 victory at Auburn Arena Feb. 20.

“We’re going to prepare like he’s going to go, and then we’ll adjust accordingly if he doesn’t go,” Barbee said. “The type of competitor he is, I fully expect him to be out there playing.”

Weekly honors unkind to Auburn: Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes was named SEC Player of the Week, and Mississippi State guard Craig Sword was SEC Freshman of the Week, making this the second time in a month both awards have been swept by Auburn opponents during that week of action.

In all, eight weekly honors were awarded to players who took on Auburn the previous week, to seven different players (Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel was freshman of the week twice.)

Other than Noel, none of those six Auburn opponents received more than two Player or Freshman of the Week accolades this season. The others were Stokes, Sword, Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Arkansas’ Marshawn Powell, Florida’s Michael Frazier II and Vanderbilt’s Kevin Bright.

Auburn guard Jordan Price picked up the Tigers’ lone SEC weekly honor this season, on Dec. 17 after going 8-for-8 from 3-point range against Grambling State and Furman.

Wallace a community man: Senior guard Josh Wallace was Auburn’s representative on the SEC Basketball Community Service Team.

A former athletic walk-on who has played all 31 games this year (starting 19), Wallace has lent his time to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lee County, along with other community service endeavors at East Alabama Medical Center, an Auburn/Opelika run for breast cancer awareness and Auburn’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee. He’s also active in FCA and has spoken to local youth basketball teams.

“It means a lot to me giving back to the community and makes you feel good,” Wallace said in a university release. “I grew up around people who always gave back, and that was one of my goals that when I grew up, I wanted to give back to the community when I could.”

Last week, Auburn’s Blanche Alverson was named to the Women’s squad, for her coordination of the Ballin’ for Books campaign.

March 7, 2013

Aaron Brenner commentary: After three years, the direction of Barbee’s Tigers is unclear

Furman vs Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. – Good for Frankie Sullivan and Josh Wallace, showing genuine angst in their faces after another coulda-woulda-shoulda night Wednesday.

Each of Auburn’s senior guards expressed pain after the 82-75 loss to Tennessee, dropping the Tigers to 9-21 overall – the most losses this program has ever suffered in one year – and 3-15 in the SEC, which speaks for itself in the nation’s 8th-rated basketball conference.

They do still feel feelings. It’d be easy to be numb by this point.

How else to react to finding 14 different ways to lose 14 different games in seven weeks? Goodness, if only Alabama’s shooters weren’t blinded by Cam Newton’s second-half spectator presence in Auburn Arena on Feb. 6, we’d be talking an all-time worst losing streak.

Maybe we’d also be talking about a new direction for Auburn men’s basketball. Because never say never, but it’s all quiet on the Jay Jacobs front in terms of evaluating Tony Barbee’s place on the Plains.

Other than an early February e-mail to donors and season-ticket holders pleading for patience, Jacobs hasn’t addressed why calling this program stuck in neutral would be generous.

Is there justice to the patience angle? Maybe. If Barbee can keep his young players on board – and it should be mentioned six of his eight high school recruits from his first three classes are no longer on the team for various reasons – there are some pieces to the long-term puzzle.

Three years, though, is plenty enough for proper evaluation. A dozen high-major coaches were hired before the 2010-11 season; four have made the NCAA tournament, another four have made the NIT.

Barbee’s 35-57 overall mark, and 12-37 in league games, rank 11th out of the 12. Only Oliver Purnell (30-62, 6-47) has been worse … and his DePaul Blue Demons won at Auburn on Nov. 30.

As his third year here winds down, Barbee is now 13-48 against teams with a top-150 RPI. He’s also lost nine times to teams failing to reach that group.

Let’s put this another way: under Tony Barbee’s watch, Auburn has 13 victories ranging from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘very nice’, and nine losses you could reasonably deduce as atrocious.

And then a whole bunch of wins over dregs and losses to capable foes in between.

Of course, the university’s tied up eight figures in payouts to two football staffs, past and present. Fiscally, this might not be the right time to make a move.

But when a man makes the money he does ($1.5 million a year, for seven years), the expectation can’t be needing to outlast Mississippi State on the final regular season weekend just to avoid last place in a less-than-beastly league.

Or maybe it is.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

Close but no sendoff: Sullivan, Wallace outbursts not enough in Auburn’s Senior Night defeat

6Auburn31 (1)

AUBURN, Ala. – Frankie Sullivan and Josh Wallace badly wanted this win. But Tennessee needed it.

Sullivan’s sudden awakening from his scoring slumber, and Wallace’s season-high offense, helped keep Auburn competitive for the majority of their Senior Night. But the Volunteers burst the Tigers’ bubble with a comeback 82-75 victory Wednesday at Auburn Arena before an announced attendance of 5,420 fans.

The effort and passion were there, but once again, the result was not. Auburn (9-21, 3-14 SEC) has lost eight straight games, and 14 of 15 – the program’s worst stretch since 1943-44.

“We just wanted to leave the fans with a good taste in their mouths,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think we did that this year as seniors – we fought, but the winning aspect of it, it’s disappointing.”

Auburn was in foul trouble all night, and it came back to bite the Tigers’ senior guards in the end. Frankie Sullivan had to sit the final 2 minutes, 22 seconds on a controversial offensive charge call, his fifth foul drawing boos from the crowd.

The foul count was Auburn 27, Tennessee 16.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go with the wind,” Sullivan said. “They were calling it real tight tonight, so I felt like it was good for us to start driving the ball in the second half, but obviously it didn’t play out in our favor at the end of the game.”

Sullivan, who hadn’t scored more than 14 points since Jan. 19, exploded for 24 on 9-for-20 shooting. He was 2-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line, and committed seven turnovers, making it tough for him to appreciate his stat line.

“You take my seven turnovers away, we probably win the ball game,” Sullivan said. “I was being aggressive tonight and the shots were falling for me, but I don’t care about the points. I’m all about the win.”

6Auburn32Wallace picked up his third and fourth fouls earlier than hoped, sending him into a revolving door between the floor and the bench. He fouled out in the final minute, but not before a season-best 14 points (5-7 FG, 4-4 FT).

“It hurts. It hurts. I mean, I wanted to get the fans a win, a little something to look forward to next year,” Wallace said. “But … it hurts. The whole team wanted this one.”

Added Barbee: “He gave everything he could to win this game. If you could transplant Josh’s heart into every player in this game, you’d have some (great) players out there.”

Overall, the Volunteers (18-11, 10-7) were 27-for-38 from the line, and that included a 1-for-10 clip by forward Jarnell Stokes. Stokes did contribute a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds), helping Tennessee avoid a destructive defeat to their perilous NCAA tournament chances.

Tennessee guards Jordan McRae and Trae Golden each led their team with 21 points a piece, combining to go 16-for-18 from the stripe. Auburn’s whole team was 10-for-12.

“We had four more field goals, two more threes, and a team takes 26 more foul shots than you do,” Barbee said. “Never seen that before. That’s the difference in the ball game.”

Chris Denson, one of Auburn’s most consistent scorers in SEC play, sat out with a back injury. Barbee said it flared up on the Shaw product during shootaround, and Denson participated in warmups but never removed his warmups during the game.

Of the other seniors, Rob Chubb had six points, seven rebounds and two blocks; Noel Johnson hit a trio of 3-pointers; and walk-on Dylan Spencer – who’d played seven games in his four-year career without scoring before – hit a 3-pointer to send Auburn Arena into pandemonium. Spencer led the Tigers in scoring at the first media timeout, logging 4:11 of playing time.

“It was a big moment. You see the love and camaraderie this team has,” Barbee said. “When he made that three, not only did the (student section) go crazy, but the whole bench went crazy for him.”

All five seniors comprised the starting lineup.

“I’m disappointed they couldn’t go out with a win in front of the home court, but those five guys represent everything that’s right in college athletics,” Barbee said. “All five of them. They’re going to be very successful in life and represent as Auburn men in an unbelievable way.”

THREE-POINTERS

- The birthday boy didn’t have such a bad night: freshman guard Jordan Price, who turned 19 Wednesday, has struggled with his shot for the entire SEC schedule, but he was 3-for-3 from deep on his birthday.

The Tigers were ahead 35-32 at the break. Auburn has led at halftime in just four of its past 20 games dating back to Dec. 22, in addition to home games with Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M. All four margins were one possession, and Auburn went on to lose all four games.

- Now knotted with Mississippi State on bottom of the SEC standings, Auburn’s SEC finish is clear. The Tigers go to Starkville Saturday afternoon; the loser finishes in last place, and will open the SEC men’s basketball tournament in Nashville Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET against the No. 11 seed. Saturday’s winner will play in the 12-13 game Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.