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November 9, 2012
Tigers triumphant in season opener
Coach Tony Barbee was disappointed in the intensity his team showed in the final exhibition game and only saw more of the same in the season opener against IPFW.
Auburn led during the first few minutes and didn't regain the lead until the 6:59 mark in the second half. The Tigers turned to their senior-laden starting five to close out the Mastodons for the 61-50 victory in Auburn Arena.
Both teams featured guards that put their respective offenses on their back. IPFW guard Frank Gaines, whom Barbee and Frankie Sullivan both said could start in the SEC, led all scorers with 32 points. Meanwhile, Sullivan was 11-for-20 from the floor to lead the Tigers with 26 points.
"They look to me to go score when we have to," Sullivan said. "That's one of my jobs on this team as a leader. I really don't like taking shots like that, but it was just at the point where I had to."
With Chris Denson out for the foreseeable future, Sullivan is Auburn's lone consistent and proven scoring threat. He fueled the Tigers with momentum-stealing plays, notably a put-back dunk on a fast-break layup missed by Allen Payne.
"He's got to be our catalyst," Barbee said. "When things might be going a little haywire, he's the guy who's got to get us settled and make those big plays for us."
Barbee said Sullivan played at 80 percent last year while still recovering from knee surgery in 2010. He feels refreshed this year -- and that has Frankie feeling like it's 2007.
"It feels great. I haven't felt like that in a long time," Sullivan said. "I don't think I've done that since the senior year, and that was a long time ago."
Fellow senior center Rob Chubb, facing the smaller front line of IPFW, was given opportunities early, but missed two easy layups in the opening minutes. Unlike last year, though, Chubb didn't let his lack of offensive production affect everything else.
"I thought Rob Chubb missed a lot of easy shots, but I guess that's Rob Chubb isn't it?" Barbee said. "He came up with 15 rebounds. That's huge in a game like this."
Barbee has harped on how much his team will lean on its seniors, Sullivan and Chubb specifically, until the new guys adapt to the new level of competition. Junior Allen Payne stepped up and quietly added 12 points and seven rebounds. Sullivan, Payne and Chubb combined for 48 of 61 of Auburn's points while the newcomers watched from the bench for most of the second half.
"We all know how good these new guys are," Barbee said. "But exhibition games versus actual teams when it counts is all different. That's why you have veterans, and they are expected to carry the load until these new guys come on and catch up with everything we're trying to get accomplished. They all know how much we need them. But I've got to look at them and say "you're ready." And tonight, they weren't ready."
Mixing in more 2-3 zone in the second half, Auburn held IPFW to 28.8% from the floor. But Barbee doesn't want to have to turn to the zone throughout the season, but he will until his team learns how to defend man-to-man to his liking.
"The zone has been a good defense for us since I've been here," Barbee said. "But you guys understand how much I despise playing zone. But until we can guard that basketball and do a better job of communicating and anticipating, we're going to have to go to that zone."
Even though the younger players didn't get the playing time many of them might be used to, Barbee said they were all standing there waiting to greet him in the locker room after the season opening victory.
"They all stood up and went crazy," Barbee said. "They understand that winning is important."
Auburn travels to Charleston, S.C., Thursday to play Murray State in the opening game of the Charleston Classic.