Men’s basketball opens season with blank slate

It could be a long season for Barbee and the Tigers

Tony Barbee said the best thing about Monday’s exhibition loss to Columbus State was that it didn’t count in the season standings.

Starting tonight, however, Auburn’s first-year head men’s basketball coach won’t be able to make that claim. Now, they all count.

The Tigers host UNC Asheville in both teams’ regular-season opener at 8 p.m. at Auburn Arena. The Auburn women’s team will play Mercer prior to the men’s game, as part of a doubleheader to christen the brand new venue.

“After seeing the opening event that we had when it was sold out with all of those people in the seats and the noise that was being made, I know it’s going to be even crazier for this opening night doubleheader,” Barbee said. “I’m just looking forward to getting in there and witnessing the atmosphere, and then, hopefully, at the end of the day come out with a win.”

It’ll take a lot for a young and inexperienced Auburn team to make that happen, as UNCA returns all but one starter from last year’s 15-16 team that finished fourth in the Big South.

“They come back with a lot of experience, and they are going to come in here ready to play,” Barbee said. “But so are we.”

The Bulldogs are led by junior guard J.P. Primm, who averaged 12.5 points last year, as well as 5.5 assist per game and 4.5 rebounds.

In all, three of UNC Asheville’s projected starting five averaged double figures a year ago.

Auburn’s leading returning scorers are junior forward Kenny Gabriel and sophomore guard Earnest Ross, both of whom averaged 2.8 points per game last season.

However, in Monday’s 54-52 loss to CSU, Ross led Auburn with 14 points and six boards, while Gabriel had 8 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore guard Andre Malone chipped in with 10 points off the bench, as well.

In his career as a head coach, Barbee is 4-0 in season openers, all coming at UTEP. Overall, the Tigers are 72-32 in season openers, including a 51-9 mark at home.

mszvetitz@oanow.com | 737-2513

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