FEBRUARY 4, 2014
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. --
Auburn's Allen Payne makes sure the inside game is working (AP photo)
Allen Payne said Auburn didn't quit believing, even in the midst of a disappointing start to the SEC season.
"I think the biggest thing we did is we didn't let our heads drop," he said.
Auburn bounced back from an 0-6 league start with wins over Alabama and Georgia at home last week, and now will try to extend its winning ways at South Carolina and LSU this week. First up, a 6:30 p.m. game at South Carolina on Wednesday.
"We knew that we played a tough schedule with those first four or five teams, but we stayed with it and we showed that in the last two games," Payne said. "If we can end this first half on a winning streak, that would be big for us and give us a lot of confidence moving forward."
Auburn will wrap up the first half of the SEC season at South Carolina and has a chance to improve upon its 10-9 overall record and 2-6 mark in the SEC. South Carolina is 8-13 overall and 1-7 in the league.
Auburn's recent success has coincided with improved inside game. That started in a loss at Mississippi State on Jan. 22 when Payne and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum combined for 24 points and 23 rebounds. Those numbers dipped against Arkansas and Alabama, but reemerged against Georgia when the duo combined for 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.
The inside threat, coupled with the aggressive guard play of Chris Denson and KT Harrell, makes Auburn more difficult to handle.
"It has been big for us," Payne said. "Chris, KT and Tahj (Shamsid-Deen) have been carrying most of the offensive load. I've been a little bit more aggressive with my shots these past couple of games. I had the hamstring injury that sidelined me for a game, but I have tried to be more aggressive and so has Asauhn. He's doing it more with his defensive presence and controlling the paint for us.
"It has lifted everything else, we are all starting to gel and come together at the right time."
Dixon-Tatum said trying to improve the inside game is "not pressure."
"It's just something that needs to be taken care of. We took that upon ourselves to get into the gym and do whatever you have to do to get the inside going. We are still not where we want to be."
Don't think the game will only be played around the basket. Denson and Harrell like the 3-point shot, and South Carolina is leading the SEC in 3-point percentage.
Overall, coach Tony Barbee said, "we are just trying to find some success on the road, but more importantly, I'm just focused on us getting better."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: