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January 26, 2013

Missed opportunities doom Tigers

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AUBURN -- After winning three consecutive games, Auburn had lost three in a row. A change was necessary.

"We stopped worrying about petty stuff," coach Tony Barbee said. "The teams that address it and the teams that talk about it are the teams that kind of go on a run. That's what we did this week."

Still, the reckoning wasn't quite enough for Auburn to stop its losing skid against No. 23 Ole Miss on Saturday night. The Rebels made two free throws with seconds left to defeat Auburn 63-61 in Auburn Arena.

With the game tied, the Tigers had possession with 34 seconds remaining. Barbee drew up a play to get his two best players involved.

Junior guard Chris Denson was to receive a pick from center Rob Chubb and drive toward the lane with guard Frankie Sullivan in the corner as a second option. The design worked.

Denson easily glided into the lane, but his layup attempt was swatted by Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway. The junior guard made a poor decision.

"That's part of me growing up," Denson said. "I should have made the right play and hit Frankie in the corner."

Sullivan disagreed.

"I wouldn't take it back," Sullivan said. "It was a great play; it just got blocked."

In his third game back after a stress fracture in his foot, it was the first that Denson looked back to his pre-injury form. Citing that he was about 80 percent earlier in the week, Denson's trademark drives to the basket ending in off-balance layups were on full display against Ole Miss.

"After the Vanderbilt game, I wasn't too happy with my performance, so I came back and just rehabbed and rehabbed," Denson said. "I'm 100 percent now, as you can see."

Denson led all scorers with 18 points while Sullivan struggled with his shot. Sullivan finished the game 3-of-11 from the floor, unacceptable in his eyes.

"Me knocking shots down, that's my job for the team," Sullivan said. "And I'm not doing it right now."

Sitting in the media room after playing 25 minutes and fighting for seven rebounds, the senior said he'd be back in the gym later that night.

Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson usually occupies the same role for the Rebels. The SEC's leading scorer hit three of his first four shots from behind the arc and finished with 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting including the game-winning free throws.

But it was guard LaDarius White who filled that position for Ole Miss Saturday night. Entering the game averaging 3.9 points per game, White exploited Auburn's defensive focus on Henderson and led the Rebels with 17 points while shooting 3-for-3 from three-point range.

White and sophomore guard Jarvis Summers were the Rebels' only two starters who didn't average double-figures entering the game. They combined for 31 against Auburn.

The duo who came in averaging 25 points per game, forwards Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway, were limited to seven.

Chubb matched Holloway's 11 rebounds with 10 of his own.

Barbee said his team had its opportunities.

"What do you do?" Barbee said. "We had everything we wanted."

Barbee wouldn't expound on what issues were discussed in the days following his team's 12-point loss at Vanderbilt, but he said the Tigers' play against a ranked opponent proved the problems had been remedied.

"Every team goes through issues for whatever reason," Barbee said. "The teams that don't address them and let them fester ruin their season. Teams that deal with them can get on a good flow."

Auburn resumes play Wednesday night at Georgia.



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