AU HOOPS: Finding offense key vs. Ole Miss

The first time Ole Miss and Auburn met this season, Ty Armstrong hit a layup with 8:27 to go in the first half to cut the Rebels’ lead to 15-13, and the Tigers kept the Rebels within 7 points for the next 4 minutes.

But by halftime, the home team’s lead was 17. By the 10-minute mark of the second half, it was 22. By the emptying of the benches and the final buzzer it was 31, Auburn’s worst loss since 2005.

The Ole Miss game on Feb. 16 got completely away from Tony Barbee’s Tigers in a short period of time, a sensation that, despite their lack of success in terms of wins and losses, was relatively new to the Tigers.

“We had a difficult time with them in Oxford,” Barbee said. “They are a difficult matchup for us because they are so explosive offensively in basically every position.”

Auburn (9-19, 2-12 SEC) knew it had to look out for Chris Warren, the second-leading scorer in the SEC at 19.0 points per game, the first time out and he proved his scoring acumen with 15 points on a night in which his shot wasn’t even falling.

The Tigers knew the Rebels’ two bigs — 6-foot-10 Terrance Henry and 6-9 Reginald Buckner — could give them trouble with their bulk, and they combined for 25 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor and a 13-of-15 night at the free-throw line.

They knew guard Zach Graham was a streaky shooter, and they just so happened to catch him on a hot streak, sinking 7-of-11 from 3-point range and putting up a career-high 30 points.

It was a perfect storm for Ole Miss (18-11, 6-8) that, added in with Auburn’s persistent offensive troubles, led to a blowout.

“It’s been our issue and our biggest weakness all year long and that is our lack of offensive explosiveness,” Barbee said. “We don’t have any.”

Despite those troubles, Auburn hasn’t been on the wrong end of many blowouts this season.

The Tigers have lost by double digits in six of their 14 SEC games, have suffered three losses by 5 points or fewer and have a 9-point overtime loss thrown in.

They hung with both Alabama and Arkansas until the absolute end last week, finally falling on buckets with 5.0 seconds (Arkansas) and 0.3 seconds (Alabama) to go.

“We have been playing really well defensively, and we have been playing well enough defensively to stay in games and give ourselves a chance to win at the end,” Barbee said.

It’s going to take more of the same for a different result against the team that wiped the floor with them two weeks ago.

“Most teams try to limit (Chris) Warren, which you have to, but they are not a one-man team,” Barbee said. “They have other guys who are capable of stepping up and beating you.”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

Ole Miss (18-11, 6-8) at Auburn (9-19, 2-12)
Where: Auburn Arena
When: 7 p.m.
Radio/TV: WKKR (97.7 FM)/SEC Network (WSFA Digital Channel 12.2)
Projected starters, Ole Miss: F Terrance Henry, 6-10, Jr. (9.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.2 apg); F Reginald Buckner, 6-9, So. (7.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.0 bpg); G Dundrecous Nelson, 5-11, Fr. (6.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 1.3 apg); G Chris Warren, 5-10, Sr. (19.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.6 apg); G Zach Graham, 6-6, Sr. (14.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg)
Projected starters, Auburn: F Allen Payne, 6-6, Fr. (5.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 spg); F Kenny Gabriel, 6-8, Jr. (9.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.0 bpg); F Adrian Forbes, 6-8, Jr. (3.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.6 bpg); G Josh Wallace, 5-10, So. (5.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.9 apg); G Earnest Ross, 6-5, So. (13.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.3 apg)

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