AU shocks Ole Miss in comeback win

The Tigers finally get to double digit wins after a comeback win over Ole Miss.

Tony Barbee strolled into the media room for the post-game press conference, plopped himself down behind the middle microphone on the raised table at the head of the room and fielded the first question after his team overcame a 20-point deficit to beat Ole Miss, 76-73, in its home finale Wednesday night.

“We had it in the bag, right?” he asked with a laugh.

The Tigers (10-19, 3-12 SEC), the team with the worst record in the conference, trailed Ole Miss (18-12, 6-9), a team that had handed them their worst loss since 2005 just two weeks ago, by 20 points after a Dundrecous Nelson 3-pointer with 3:57 to go in the first half.

Auburn shook off some of the rust from its awful start to close the margin to 41-25 at the half, but still didn’t look like a team that was on the comeback trail.

But an Earnest Ross 3-pointer with 1:17 to go in the half signaled the start of a 34-10 run that gave the Tigers a 4-point lead with 8:09 to go, sending them to their second-biggest comeback win in program history, behind a game they won against Louisville in which they trailed by 22 in 1995.

“It was an outstanding effort from this team, even though we got down 20,” Barbee said. “This team has shown fight, this team has gotten better. It’s not even the same team from the first game of the year. It’s not even the same team from the first game of the conference season.

“This is a totally different team.”

The Tigers’ comeback began in earnest with two 3-pointers in the first 42 seconds out of the break by Kenny Gabriel.

Gabriel scored the Tigers’ 9 points of the half on his way to a career-high 24 to go along with seven rebounds.

“Man, I tell you what, I don’t know if we’ve seen a game like this since from him the first exhibition game. How long ago was that?” Barbee said. “He’s got to believe in himself. I can tell him how good he is, but you’ve got to have a belief in what you are by what you put into this game. Kenny is this good, but you’ve just got to believe he can do it every second of the game, every game. Playing that aggressive, we’ve been looking for that for a long time.”

Rob Chubb took over for Gabriel at that point, scoring the Tigers’ next 5 points and, with another Gabriel layup, cutting the Rebels’ lead to 5.

Chubb scored all 11 of his points in the second half and came up with a key block after hitting a jumper to put the Tigers ahead 65-63 with 2:59 to go.

“First half I didn’t show up, head was elsewhere,” Chubb said. “At the end I was just like, ‘Alright. This is winning time. We deserve this.’

“‘This is something we’ve got to do.’”

Chubb’s basket put the Tigers up for good.

But they still had some work to do.

Chubb dunked on the Tigers’ next trip down the court, then, after two Terrance Henry free throws, he sank two free throws of his own to put Auburn ahead 69-65 with 1:33 to go.

The Tigers’ lead wavered between 2 and 5 over the next couple of possessions, until Chris Warren nailed a 3-pointer to pull Ole Miss within 74-73 with 20.8 seconds left.

After a timeout, Auburn inbounded to Chris Denson, who was quickly trapped and tied up, with alternating possession giving the ball back to the Rebels under their basket with 16.0 seconds left.

Warren got the inbounds pass but dribbled it out of bounds. Ross threw the ensuing inbounds up for grabs and Nelson got the steal, then fed Nick Williams under the basket with about 4 seconds to go.

But Ross got a hand in and ripped the ball free, and it trickled out to Denson, who sprinted down the court until he was fouled with 2.1 seconds to go.

Denson hit two free throws and Nelson’s desperation heave was off-target.

The Tigers had their third conference win of the season and, along with their 19-point comeback win over Mississippi State on Feb. 12, solidified themselves as a team that’s very rarely out of a game.

“We’ve almost made a habit to get down and start coming back. We’re getting better at coming back,” Chubb said. “It’s going to be a problem for other teams when we stop getting that dry spell. If we play them even the whole game and then start going on some of those runs that we do, it’s definitely going to be a problem for other teams.”

Nelson scored a career-high 30 points, Henry netted 13 and Warren, the second-leading scorer in the SEC, scored 12 on 3-of-16 shooting.

Ross scored 15 for the Tigers, and Denson added 11.

Barbee made a point to take a trip to the student section and thank them as part of the 7,107 fans that showed up for the Tigers’ last home game.

“They had every reason to not show up all season long because of the record,” Barbee said. “But I think they see what we were trying to do this year with establishing how we’re going to play, the intensity, the desire, the heart, and all of those things.”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

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