Barbee: Tigers play ‘scared’ in loss to Vols

Even with the team’s string of losses, Tony Barbee felt his young Auburn squad was making progress as the year went on, culminating in its first SEC of the year at South Carolina on Saturday.

That progress came to a screeching halt against Tennessee on Thursday night.

The Volunteers controlled the Tigers nearly the entire game, outrebounding, outmuscling and outplaying them in a 69-56 win in front of 6,274 fans at Auburn Arena, as well as an ESPN2 audience.

Barbee had a word for Aubrun’s play: scared.

“It’s a matter of two different programs right now, is what it is. I thought we played scared tonight,” Barbee said. “Why you’d be scared of another college player – I don’t care reputation, how good, ranked, I really don’t care. How could you be scared? That’s how we played. We had a lot of guys – not everybody – but we had a majority of guys who played scared out there tonight.

“That’s unacceptable.”

Tennessee (15-7, 5-2 SEC) built a 21-8 lead 10 minutes into the game, a 22-point lead midway through the second half and never let Auburn get closer than 13 the rest of the way, all without injured leading scorer Scotty Hopson.

Auburn (8-14, 1-7) was doing without a starter of its own – 6-foot-10 forward Rob Chubb – who was suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Chubb was coming off his best game of the season, a career-high, 18-point performance in the win over South Carolina.

“Disappointed in Rob,” Barbee said. “He’s suspended from all team activities. That’s all the detail I’m going into. We were starting to gain a nice rhythm with Rob in the whole. He was starting to be an offensive threat. Not having that tonight was a big hole.”

Tennessee set the tone early on, with its own 6-10 forward Brian Williams grabbing five rebounds in the first 7 minutes.

The Volunteers outrebounded the Tigers, 21-7, in the first half and finished with a 38-24 advantage.

Williams finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, Cameron Tatum added 15 points and seven boards, and Tobias Harris had 14 points to go along with 5 rebounds.

“Tennessee’s a good team. They’re big, fast. They didn’t even have their best player tonight,” said Tigers freshman Allen Payne, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, nearly a third of Auburn’s total.

“But once the ball goes up, all that anxiety and everything before the game has to go out the window. Once the ball goes up, everyone out there’s a basketball player. We’ve got to let that stuff go – all that hype and hoopla coming in – we’ve got to let it go before tipoff.”

The Volunteers went into halftime up 37-24 and outscored the Tigers 23-14 in the first 10:26 out of the break, with two Harris free throws effectively putting a bow on the game with 9:34 to go.

Payne was the only Tiger to reach double figures Thursday night – though Josh Langford inched close with 9 points – in Auburn’s fifth sub-60 point performance of the conference season.

Auburn gets only a day to prepare before traveling to Georgia (15-6, 4-4) on Saturday.

“This was clearly a step back,” Barbee said. “We played timid. We played intimidated.”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

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