Despite deficits, scrappy Tigers continue to fight

The Tigers have continued to scrap all season despite their only winning 10 games.

Kenny Gabriel can’t quite put his finger on what it is about this team.

What allows the Tigers to be a non-factor in a 19-point loss against Mississippi State in Starkville on Jan. 16, get down 19 against the Bulldogs in Auburn about a month later and rally back for a dramatic 3-point win?

How could Auburn get drubbed by 31 by Ole Miss in Oxford on Feb. 16, fall behind the Rebels by 20 in Auburn on Wednesday night, and still pull off another 3-point win in its home finale?

“I have no clue,” Gabriel said after the Tigers’ comeback Wednesday. “I asked (my teammates) after the game in the locker room, ‘Where were we in the first half?’

“And they were like, ‘You know we like to put on a show in the second half.’”

To paraphrase what Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said after the Tigers came back from 13 down on the Razorbacks only to lose on a dunk with 5.0 seconds left, Auburn seems to find an extra gear once it gets behind.

Pelphrey also watched his team gain a 24-point cushion with 8:37 to go against Auburn in Fayetteville, only to see the lead dwindle to 6 before the Razorbacks pulled out a 73-64 win.

If only it didn’t take a gigantic hole to signal the Tigers that it’s time to wake up.

“It’s frustrating and draining at the same time,” guard Josh Wallace said. “We are what we are on the offensive end, but if we’re not going to score, we can stop them from scoring. A lot of those times we go on those droughts and we’re not putting the ball in the bucket, we get down because we have a defensive breakdown.

“If we’re not going to score, the least we can do is stop them from scoring.”

Auburn (10-19, 3-12 SEC) has been able to pick it up on both ends of the floor in the second half during SEC play.

The Tigers are averaging 11 more points from the first to second half (24.6 to 35.6) and shooting 10.4 percent better (33.8 to 44.2).

They’re holding SEC opponents’ scoring (34.2 ppg in the first, 34.8 in the second) and shooting (43.1 percent in the first, 44.0 in the second) relatively steady as the offense picks up the pace in second halves.

“We won’t stop fighting. We can’t stop fighting,” Wallace said. “A lot of the players from other teams tell me, ‘Man, ya’ll don’t give up.’”

Even when they score only 6 points in a half, like they did the first time out against tonight’s opponent, LSU (11-19, 3-12) in the SEC opener Jan. 8.

Auburn hit only 2-of-24 shots in that first half and fell down by 31 points at the beginning of the second before clawing back to lose by a respectable 62-55 margin.

“It was terrible,” Wallace said. “I kept looking at the clock like, ‘Oh my God. This can’t be real.’ That was a frustrating half, and Coach let us know it at halftime.”

Tonight’s matchup in Baton Rouge is more than just a springboard to next season for the Tigers.

With both teams at 3-12 in the conference, the winner gets the No. 5 seed in the West and the loser takes No. 6, with the 5-seed taking on the East’s No. 4 in the first round of the SEC Tournament and the 6-seed taking on the East’s No. 3.

It’s still a jumble in the East as to which teams will claim Nos. 2-5, with Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky all in the mix.

Auburn’s best matchup of the four would seem to be Georgia, which the Tigers took to overtime in Athens before falling 81-72 earlier this year.

The Tigers were down by 4 with 13.7 seconds to go in that one. Just another comeback.

“When we get down, we can either hang our head or keep fighting,” Wallace said.

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

Auburn (10-19, 3-12) at LSU (11-19, 3-12)
When: 6 p.m.

Where: Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, La.

Radio/TV: WKKR (97.7 FM)/FSSO (Channel 33)

Projected Starters, Auburn: F Allen Payne, 6-6, Fr. (5.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.9 spg); F Kenny Gabriel, 6-8, Jr. (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.9 bpg); F Adrian Forbes, 6-8, Jr. (3.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.7 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, 2.2 apg)

Projected Starters, LSU: F Malcolm White, 6-9, Jr. (7.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 apg); F Storm Warren, 6-7, Jr. (7.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.2 apg); G Andre Stringer, 5-9, Fr. (11.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.7 apg); G Matt Derenbecker, 6-7, Fr. (6.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.2 apg); G Ralston Turner, 6-6, Fr. (13.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 apg)

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