March 3, 2012
AUBURN - Frankie Sullivan tied a season-high with 22 points, Kenny Gabriel totaled 14 points, five rebounds and three steals in his final home game and Chris Denson finished with 12 points as Auburn never trailed in defeating LSU 67-52 on Senior Day in Auburn Arena.
"I just told the guys to be aggressive," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "When you have that kind of lead, you want to come out and establish separation in those first four or five minutes. We were able to do that. I told Frankie and those seniors to be aggressive in those first four or five minutes. LSU is a good defensive team, so you got to go, what I call hooping, and Frankie went out there and hooped for the first five minutes. He made basketball plays off of the players we were running."
With Auburn leading 34-29 at the half, Rob Chubb hit a jumper and then Sullivan went on a personal 9-2 run to give Auburn a 45-31 lead with 15 minutes left. A layup by Gabriel gave Auburn a 51-36 lead with only 10 minutes remaining in the contest. The Tigers didn't score a field goal in the final 10:23 but went 16-of-20 from the foul line during that span.
LSU pulled back within single digits on the back of a 10-1 run over nearly five minutes, and John Isaac's 3-pointer cut Auburn's lead to 52-45 with five minutes remaining.
Auburn (15-15, 5-11) converted 12-of-14 free throws in the last 3:31 to secure the win. Senior walk-on Jake Drum, whose name was being cheered by the student section for several minutes, came in, got a steal and scored his first points of the season with two free throws with a minute to go to give the Tigers their largest lead of the night at 67-50.
"It was tough, because I like playing in front of this crowd," said Gabriel after climbing into the student section to celebrate the win in his final home game. "They've been behind us for the last three years that I've been here. I couldn't hold back the tears, because I'm going to miss this place. I'm going to miss my teammates, and it was just a real emotional moment for me, but I'm better now."
Gabriel and Sullivan combined to score the first 13 points for Auburn as the Tigers built a 13-7 lead over the opening five minutes of the game. Four-straight points by Chris Denson gave Auburn a 19-12 lead with 11:49 to go before halftime.
"I was just being aggressive," said Sullivan. "The coaches told us to come out in the second half and just hoop, so that the seniors can go out on a good note. That's what I tried to do. I got hot for a second, and they kept coming to me so I was just trying to knock down shots."
Gabriel's second 3-pointer followed by a trey from Noel Johnson opened up Auburn's largest lead of the first half. The triple capped a 10-0 run and gave the Tigers a 29-17 advantage with seven minutes on the clock before the break.
"There's nothing like it," said Sullivan of winning on Senior Day for his teammates. "I think that with us winning this game and going to the SEC Tournament, will give us a little motivation. We can play with anybody. We've been doing it all year. We just need to do it for 40 minutes. Anything can happen in the SEC Tournament, as you can see from a couple years back win Georgia did it. Anybody can win the SEC Tournament. You just have to go out and play the game."
Auburn's defense held LSU leading scorer Justin Hamilton to just four points on 1-of-7 shooting. LSU connected on 9-of-17 3-point attempts, but made just 8-of-33 inside the arc. Rob Chubb and Willy Kouassi accepted the challenge of shutting down Hamilton and combined for eight points and 14 rebounds, including a career-best seven boards for Kouassi.
Auburn scored 18 points off turnovers, compared to zero for LSU. Ralston Turner scored 14 points to lead LSU. Auburn went 14-3 at home this year to tie for the fourth most home wins in school history.
Auburn plays on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. CT in the SEC Tournament First Round in New Orleans as the No. 10 seed against the No. 7 seed, which will be determinded later Saturday.