March 8, 2014
Auburn's Chris Denson (3) looks to pass the ball as Texas A&M's Dylan Johns defends (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
By Charles Goldberg
Auburn coach Tony Barbee says there's nothing like closing out the regular season with a win before tournament play.
Consider Auburn's 69-64 win over Texas A&M on Saturday the boost the Tigers were looking for before heading to the Southeastern Conference Tournament to play South Carolina in a first-round game Wednesday in Atlanta.
"You want confidence going into post-season play, and there's nothing to give you confidence like a win, and like winning on the road against a very good team like Texas A&M," Barbee said on Auburn's post-game radio show.
Auburn will play South Carolina at 6 p.m., Central time, with the knowledge it has already beaten the Gamecocks twice this season.
Saturday's win was a bounce-back performance after starting so slowly in back-to-back losses to Alabama and Tennessee before heading to College Station. This time, the Tigers led by eight early, fell behind by seven, then came on late to overtake the Aggies in the final minutes.
Barbee said he showed his players video highlights of Auburn's gutty play against good teams in preparation for the Aggies, a move that was designed "to let them know we're not the team that hung its head the last two games when we got down. This is the team we can be when we keep throwing punches regardless of the outcome."
Auburn improved to 14-15 overall record and 6-12 in the SEC. Texas A&M, losing for only the third time at home this season, fell to 17-14 overall and 8-10 in the league.
Auburn's dynamic scoring duo arrived in time for the regular-season finale. KT Harrell scored 20 and had seven rebounds. Chris Denson, who had struggled in the previous two games as he was shooting for the SEC scoring crown, scored 19, had seven rebounds and had five assists.
"The last two games I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself, trying to force shots to get the scoring title," Denson said. "I met with Coach after the two games and he just told me to relax and play my game. That's what I did today, just play free and we got the 'W.'"
Denson, known for his scoring, said "defensive stops won the game."
Sure enough, Auburn outscored A&M 10-4 over the last four minutes.
"It was a great effort for all those involved," Barbee said. "It was a good bounce-back for the guys. We kind of refocused on what's important, and that's playing for each other...defense, the rebounding, the loose balls. I think we won all those battles today."
Auburn now turns to South Carolina, a team the Tigers beat 79-74 on Feb. 5 and beat 83-67 on Feb. 26.
"The win going into the SEC Tournament is big, and this is the one thing we need," Denson said. "I can't wait to compete in Atlanta."SEC Tournament Bracket
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine