Dec. 18, 2013
Here comes Allen Payne and Auburn for Thursday night's game against Clemson (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Most Auburn students are home for the holidays. The Auburn basketball team is on campus trying to get better.
The Tigers play Clemson in Auburn Arena at 7 Thursday night after some me time and practice time and a self-evaluation time after semester finals.
"This is usually when the teams I have been around have gotten better and that’s the reason why guys are locked in on basketball," coach Tony Barbee said. "They can concentrate and focus solely all of their energy into the game and into the team. I think that is what happened this past week even though we just got out of finals. We have had a couple of days this week with no school where the guys can lock in on what we are doing in here."
Auburn is 4-3 heading into its own ACC challenge. The Tigers play 8-2 Clemson tonight and 4-7 Boston College on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Auburn Arena.
Forward Allen Payne said Auburn's focus has been on "getting better defensively."
"We are out of school. Finals are over. We have basically a month where all we are doing is basketball so we are using that time where we are not in class and not in study hall to get better on the basketball court and that’s been our main focus right now."
Clemson leads the nation in scoring defense. Auburn had trouble staying close against Iowa State and Illinois in its last two games because of defensive lapses, but the Tigers do have some positives, at least offensively.
Chris Denson leads the SEC in scoring at 19.9 points per game and his 139 points in the first seven games are the most at Auburn since Wesley Person scored 192 points 20 years ago. KT Harrell has hit double-figures in each of the first seven games. He's averaging 18.4 points per game. Auburn also leads the SEC in free throw percentage at 73 percent.
But none of that changed the outcome of Auburn's last two games against Iowa State and Illinois, however.
Those two games were not only an awakening for Auburn's newcomers, but "it was an eye-opening experience for everybody."
"Hopefully it opened everybody’s eyes. The things that we have to do, that need to become our identity, we’re not doing them and that’s the end result of not doing those things. We have to be a gritty, grimy, dirty defensive identity-type, toughness team. That’s what we work on and that’s what I preach and that message hasn’t gotten across quite yet.
"Hopefully, some of the stuff we did this week in practice and since our last game, these guys will take a hold of, take ownership of and make it their identity because you can’t count on offense to be there every possession. The most successful teams are only going to shoot 50 percent. We want to shoot 80 percent on the defensive end of the floor in terms of getting stops. We are not identifying with that. We have to do that for us to turn a corner."
Barbee hopes that starts with defensive-minded Clemson.
“They challenge everything at the rim. They have some big guys in the middle and they challenge every shot," Barbee said. "We have to be tough-minded going into the paint because that’s one of the things we try to do, attack the paint, attack the rim. We have to by physical and, at the very least, don’t let your shot get blocked, at least get it on the rim so at least we have a chance to rebound it."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine