Auburn's KT Harrell watches his shot during a tough loss to Missouri (Lauren Barnard photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. --
When forward Allen Payne went down with an injury, coach Tony Barbee saw others willing to step up.
That may be the silver lining for Auburn in two frustrating losses to start the SEC season, and it'll be something the Tigers will take with them to Tennessee for Wednesday's 6 p.m. game in Thompson-Boling Arena.
KT Harrell and Chris Denson have been the top scoring tandem in the SEC all season, now averaging 19.3 and 19.1 points per game respectively, and they're scoring 51 percent of Auburn's points. Barbee says they need help.
Freshman point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen has shown signs of wanting to join the club, and even freshman walk-on Alex Thompson showed a willingness to shoot the last time out, scoring eight of his season's nine points.
Barbee will be looking contributions like that when he sends his Tigers, 8-5 overall and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference after a 3-point loss at Ole Miss and a 2-point home loss against Missouri, against the Volunteers, who are 10-5 overall and 1-1 in the league.
"A lot of the freshmen stepped up last game," Harrell said. "If we continue to get that kind of contributions to the game we will definitely have a better chance of winning. It can't be just two or three guys it has to be a team thing."
Auburn played shorthanded in Saturday's loss to Missouri when Payne saw action for only the first two minutes as he nursed a hamstring injury from the game before. But in stepped others.
""I think Tahj is one of those guys who stepped up his game since I challenged the group a week ago about it not just being KT or Chris. We need more guys," Barbee said. "We had three guys in double figures and Missouri had four. I have, said it from the beginning of the year, we have to be a team that gets four or five guys in double figures.
"It has hurt us that Allen Payne has been out because he is one of those guys that is capable of doing that. With Tahj stepping up the way he has stepped up, when we get Allen Payne back, I think we have that guy out of that group that we will have three and sometimes four in double figures. Now we have to get more production out of our bigs; more scoring, more rebounding, more blocked shots, more of a defensive presence, setting better screens."
Shamsid-Deen has been all over the place scoring, going for 14, 9, 0, 2 and 13 points over the last five games. But he's otherwise been steady, with 19 assists and just two turnovers over the last four games. He's averaging 8.2 points per game, which is 10th among SEC freshmen.
"I have been really pleased with his play, his attitude and his leadership abilities," Barbee said.
The immediate issue for Auburn may be Tennessee's size advantage. The Volunteers have already used their size to lead the SEC in rebounding defense and is second in rebounding margin.
Tennessee will start four players 6-foot-6 or taller. Auburn will start two, if Payne can go.
Either way, defense may take center stage. Auburn is second in the SEC in field goal defense. Tennessee is third.
Overall, Barbee said, "I think we have matched up pretty well in what we have done. We just have to do a couple of little things better."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: