Auburn Holds Off Pesky Georgia Southern in OT, 88-84

AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM
Frankie Sullivan

AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM
Frankie Sullivan
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

Dec. 29, 2010

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Auburn -- After having a 29 point first half lead, Auburn outlasted Georgia Southern 88-84 in overtime in Auburn Arena on Wednesday. Earnest Ross scored a game-high 20 points to lead five Tigers in double figures.

Frankie Sullivan added 17 points, Kenny Gabriel 15, Rob Chubb 12 points and 8 rebounds while Josh Langford had 11 points, all coming in the first half.

In overtime, Sullivan had a steal and sank a jumper to put the Tigers ahead 85-82 with 46 seconds remaining. Auburn, which was 8-of-11 from the foul line in the extra period, sealed the game when Ross made a pair of foul shots with six seconds remaining for the final four point margin.

"Part of the maturation process when you have such a young team is playing to win and not playing to lose," said Auburn head coach Tony Barbee. "There was a big difference in play during the second half, but we did gain our composure. It concerned me also with a young team, or with any team, when you have such a big lead and the opponent hits a big three to send it into overtime.

"Often that team with the big lead gets deflated because of that and they come out flat in overtime. Before we came out for overtime, our guys' heads were hanging. I could see it. I told them, `We have five more minutes to win this game. This is winning time.' I think a lot of that is the starters are learning how to play together."

After Georgia Southern (4-10, 0-2 SoCon) scored the first basket of the game, Auburn (5-7) never trailed again as the Tigers scored 15 straight points in the first four minutes. The Tigers played nearly a flawless first half as they continued to increase their lead to 30-8 with 10:49 left and then to as much as 47-18 with 3:26 remaining before holding a 52-25 halftime edge.

In the torrid first half, Auburn shot 54.5 percent from the field and made 7-of-14 from 3-point range while holding Georgia Southern to only 26.1 percent shooting and 2-of-11 from behind the arc.

"He was pleased about the game," said Sullivan. "We're just living the spirit. We're a young team, and we're going to have obstacles like this that we're going to have to cross. It was good for us that we got the `W' behind it."

The second half was totally the opposite. Georgia Southern, which shot 68 percent from the field and an incredible 9-of-13 (.692) from 3-point range in the second period, was down 25 points with 14:36 to play before finishing regulation on a 42-17 run. Ben Drayton sank a 3-pointer with 5.5 seconds to go to send it into overtime tied at 76.

Georgia Southern, coached by former Auburn assistant coach Charlton Young, was led by freshman Eric Ferguson's 19 points and 12 rebounds. Ben Drayton and Zuri James scored 18 points apiece for the Eagles.

For the game, Georgia Southern outshot Auburn 47.2 percent to 46.6 percent from the field and 44.0 percent (11-of-25) to 40 percent (8-of-20) from 3-point range. The Tigers were 26-of-40 (.650) from the foul line while the Eagles were 23-of-29 (.793). Auburn forced 25 turnovers but the Tigers had 18 turnovers themselves, including 15 after halftime.

Auburn sophomore guard Andre Malone, who was averaging nearly a team-high 11.7 points per game, did not dress for the game and has left the basketball team and will transfer to another school. The 6-foot-5 Atlanta native had averaged 2.5 points in Auburn's previous two games against Presbyterian and USC Upstate.

"Andre and I met with his family during the break," said Barbee. "He decided that this was not the right fit for him, and I agreed. He will be looking for another place to play ... another institution. We wish him luck. He was great to coach. He was a great teammate. It just wasn't the right fit, so it was best that we parted ways now. At the end of the day, I want guys who are going to be here."

Auburn has a quick turnaround as it plays host to Grambling on Friday at 4 pm Central in Auburn Arena.