Jan. 8, 2014
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. --
KT Harrell, left, has shot his way to the top of the SEC scoring list (Anthony Hall photo)
Auburn heads to its Southeastern Conference basketball opener at Ole Miss on Thursday night with eight wins and good attitude.
That attitude thing is something Auburn has been working on since the summer.
"I think we're in a good state mentally," says coach Tony Barbee.
The Tigers are riding a four-game winning streak that includes a pair of wins over ACC opponents. Also, Auburn catches Ole Miss at a good time: The Rebels will be without leading scorer Marshall Henderson, who will serve a suspension in Ole Miss' first two conference games from his actions in last year's SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Henderson has been busy throughout his college career. He's attended Utah, Texas Tech, South Plains Junior College and Ole Miss, not to mention infuriating Auburn fans with his antics after a game last season in Auburn Arena. This one is in Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, where Barbee will be as concerned about the development of his own team.
"It's a process as you try and grow with a young team, getting everyone on the same page, developing that chemistry and the style of how you want to play," Barbee said. "We had some ups and downs through our non-conference season but we finished it on an up-note as guys got more comfortable in their roles."
KT Harrell and Chris Denson quickly learned their roles: Shoot and score. They're the highest-scoring tandem in the SEC, averaging a combined 38.4 points per game. Harrell leads the SEC in scoring at 19.4 points per game. Denson's third at 19. They're the first Auburn duo to average at least 19 points through 11 games since Wesley Person and Aaron Swinson did it in the 1993-94 season.
Ole Miss, which is 9-4, will be looking to find some punch without Henderson, who is averaging 18.8 points per game.
"He does so much for their team and he draws so much attention. He is one of those players that makes everyone around him better because of the attention he draws," Barbee said. "There is not much to go on in terms of Ole Miss without Marshall on the floor. We will just look at the games that they played and some of the times he is off the floor to try and figure out what they will try and do without him on the floor."
Barbee figures the Rebels will ask Jarvis Summers, who is averaging 17.8 points per game, to pick up the slack. Barbee calls Summers of the better guards in the SEC.
"Hs has the ability to do the same things as, if not more, as Marshall on the floor, if not more with his size, scoring ability and ability to rebound from that guard position. It is still going to be a difficult match-up even without Marshall there," Barbee said.
Not having to face Henderson is a plus, but it's still a tough first week of SEC play for the Tigers. Auburn will host No. 21 Missouri, which is 12-1, Saturday at 1 p.m. in Auburn Arena.
"We have a difficult start in the league," Barbee said. "It is going to be a challenging opening weekend, but I think our non-conference schedule and what we have done has prepared us for the grind of what is going to become of the league this year."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: