Frank Tolbert shoots a lay-up by Mississippi's David Huertas during the second half. (AP Photo/Anthony G. Hall)
Jan. 19, 2008
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Gimpy ankle and all, Frank Tolbert was still healthy enough to help Auburn deny No. 18 Mississippi its best start in eight decades.
Tolbert scored 29 points one day after spraining his right ankle and DeWayne Reed had 21, both career highs, to lead the Tigers to an 80-77 victory over the Rebels on Saturday.
"I had a lot of confidence today," said Tolbert, who was 9-of-11 from the field. "It was a big game and the confidence just came to me."
It was the Tigers' fourth victory in their last five games against ranked teams, with the only loss coming to then-No. 1 Florida last January.
Ole Miss (15-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) was trying to match its school-best 16-1 start in the 1925-26 season but fell short with yet another close SEC game. The Rebels' first four league games have been decided by a total of 10 points.
Quantez Robertson's 3-pointer from the right corner off a screen broke a 70-all tie with 1 minute left for the Tigers (11-5, 2-2).
The Rebels' Eniel Polynice then missed a 3 at the other end. Tolbert made four straight free throws and Auburn went 7-of-10 from the line over the final 39 seconds to keep Ole Miss from tying after twice pulling within three points.
Reed had a career-high 20 points in Auburn's win over LSU on Wednesday night, and promptly topped that. He was 4-of-7 on 3-pointers and Auburn hit 10 of its 19 attempts from beyond the arc.
"We got good looks moving the ball and moving without the ball," Robertson said. "We set good screens for our teammates trying to get the open shot. We knocked them in tonight."
Tolbert, who 9-of-12 from the free throw line, spent most of Saturday morning in the training room after injuring the ankle in practice. It might have actually helped control his often frenetic style.
"It may help him being injured to slow him down a gear," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said.
Lucas Hargrove added 10 points for the Tigers, all in the first half.
Freshman Chris Warren led Mississippi with 25 points, including going 7-of-14 on 3-pointers. Dwayne Curtis, a former Auburn player, had his eighth double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Reserve Zach Graham added 12 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes for Ole Miss, which shot just 39 percent.
Auburn made 16 of 28 free throws while Ole Miss only attempted 11.
Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said he cautioned his players about thinking any SEC game will be an easy victory. Ole Miss has stumbled since a 13-0 start in nonconference games.
"Because Kentucky has had an un-Kentucky like start and Florida has a new cast of players after their dominance the last two years, people have a tendency to think the league is down," Kennedy said. "The league is still a very formidable league top to bottom.
"We keep telling our guys each and every night, you're going to have to be aggressive. I thought Auburn was much more aggressive tonight. Typically it's a foolproof stat: if your opponent makes more free throws then you attempt, it's going to be a long night, especially on the road."
Reed and Tolbert carried the Tigers back from a six-point deficit in the second half. They scored every Auburn point in a 16-3 run capped by Reed's drive for a 70-63 lead with 5 minutes left. The Rebels were 1-of-12 from the field during that stretch.
The bigger Rebels then went inside for consecutive baskets by Kenny Williams, and got a 3-pointer from Warren to tie it at 70 with 3:01 to play.
Neither team scored for 2 minutes after that. Reed blocked Warren's jumper and Robertson hit the 3 at the other end for the go-ahead shot.
"Coach told me to stay in front of him because he was going to drive and when he shot my hand was right there," Reed said.
The Rebels trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half before taking a 44-42 halftime lead on a drive by Polynice with 1 second left. His first shot was blocked by Quan Prowell, who threw it right back to Polynice while trying to keep the ball inbounds.