Gabriel posts double-double in Auburn’s exhibition win

Josh Wallace and Auburn christen the new arena with a win

Josh Wallace corralled a long rebound, pushed the ball up the floor and dished off to Kenny Gabriel, who slammed the ball home.

With that, Wallace and Gabriel christened the new Auburn Arena with the final bucket of a 79-66 win against West Alabama on Wednesday night.

“I didn’t think he was going to pass me the ball,” Gabriel said. “Now that he did, I had to finish it.”

The young Tigers looked good, bad and just about everywhere in between in the exhibition win, Tony Barbee’s first game as head coach.

The low point came on a 15-1 run by West Alabama — a Division II team — over 2:49 in the first half to give Auburn its first deficit of the young season.

The high point was a 15-6 Auburn run to close the game over the final 6:19, capped off by the Gabriel dunk.

But at least the Tigers were playing another team for a change.

“Just going against different people that don’t really know the plays that you’re going to run,” Wallace said. “Good things and bad things. We have a long way to go, but it’s a learning process.”

Gabriel and Wallace led a team that returns only 12 percent of its scoring from last year and about 19 percent of its minutes.

Gabriel, who averaged 2.8 points in 7.8 minutes per game last year, contributed with a double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds, and he added four blocks.

The 6-foot-8 Gabriel and 6-foot-10 Rob Chubb (10 points, eight rebounds), handled most of the paint duty for a team that will struggle with size this season and was missing 6-foot-7 swingman Josh Langford — one of the state of Alabama’s top recruits — for a night.

Barbee said Langford was out as a precaution with a chest bruise he suffered in practice, but the coach expects him to be back practicing Friday.

“Kenny was huge. I thought he was really big,” Barbee said. “We don’t have a dominant interior presence that can go clog the paint and eat up all the rebounds. We’ve got to have a gang rebounding mentality.

“Kenny obviously did his job on the backboard. But I thought he got a little tired at times. This is the type of performance we need from him every night, but he’s got to bring his friends along with him.
We’ve got to get some other guys helping him rebound in the paint.”

Wallace embraced his distributor role throughout the night, dishing out nine assists against two turnovers to go along with his 10 points.

Barbee would like to see more of that as well.

“Whatever he’s listed — 5-9 in high heels? — he plays like he’s about 6-9,” Barbee said. “It’s not how big you are, but how big you play. If we get everyone playing with the type of fearlessness Josh plays with, we’ll really advance as a team.”

Marino Thompson led the visiting Tigers with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Trevell Coleman (14), Alquan Mendenhall (13) and Ryan Fitch (10) all cracked double-digits.

Andre Malone scored 13 for Auburn, on a less-than-efficient 4-of-16 night from the field, and Earnest Ross added 12 off the bench.

Both teams exit the game exactly as they entered it: 0-0 on the season.

But at least Barbee has a little something to go on as the Tigers prepare for Columbus State on Monday and their first regular season game next Friday against UNC-Asheville.

“You get in this preseason rut. Every day in practice, you’re going against each other, you’re beating each other up, everybody knows what’s coming, so you have no idea whether it’s working or not,” Barbee said. “It’s always good to get the guys out so they can kind of take their frustration out on somebody else.”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

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