Tigers end season with loss to Georgia

Denson provided the only bright spot for the Tigers in their opening round loss to the Bulldogs

ATLANTA – Tony Barbee saw men playing against boys in the first round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome on Thursday.

That’s never a good thing when you’re coaching the “boys” side.

“We played against some men today,” Barbee said. “And I had some boys out on the floor, physically.”

Georgia employed its size, strength and physicality to control the game from nearly the opening tip, advancing and ending Auburn’s season with a 69-51 win.

The Bulldogs (21-10) outrebounded the Tigers (11-20), 39-27, with 18 of those boards coming on the offensive glass and leading to 19 second-chance points.

Travis Leslie, a 6-foot-4 guard, outleaped Auburn for seven offensive boards out of his 10 for the game. Trey Thompkins, a 6-10 forward, outmuscled the Tigers for 10 rebounds as well, most of them coming on the defensive glass.

“Their size and strength and bulk up front was a big concern,” Barbee said. “We had to win the paint to win this game, and we didn’t. Hats off to Georgia, because they dominated us in that area of the game.”

The Bulldogs opened up a 34-19 first-half lead after an 18-4 run in 7:17, ending on a dunk by Thompkins off a no-look Dustin Ware pass with 1:34 to go in the half.

Auburn went into the break on 4 straight points, showing flashes of the team that overcame back-to-back, double-digit deficits to win its final two games of the regular season.

Georgia put a quick end to that, starting the second half on an 11-4 run to take a 45-27 lead on a Gerald Robinson layup and erase any doubt that it would be the Bulldogs’ day.

“We couldn’t get stops and rebounds,” said forward Kenny Gabriel, who finished with 7 points. “I didn’t rebound the ball very well today, and we just got outrebounded.”

Auburn, a team which had its fair share of scoring troubles this season, was further hamstrung by the fact that both of its leading scorers – Gabriel and Earnest Ross – were having off days, combining for 11 points on 4-of-18 shooting.

Ross, who scorched the nets for 30 points in the Tigers’ 81-72 overtime loss to the Bulldogs in Athens, Ga., on Feb. 5, finished 1-of-10 from the floor with 4 points, his lowest output since a 1-point outing against Kentucky on Jan. 11.

“I said all year long, we were lucky to play the way we played them in Athens,” Barbee said. “I knew this was going to be a difficult game tonight because not only are they big and talented, they’re well-coached. Mark (Fox) does a great job.”

Thompkins was able to hold down the block for Georgia and stretch the floor as well, hitting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc on his way to a game-high 22 points.

Leslie added 12 to go along with his 10 rebounds, and Robinson started attacking the lane in second half as the fatigued Tigers failed to rotate, finishing with 11 points and six assists.

Chris Denson served as the only bright spot for the Tigers.

The freshman guard scored a career-high 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting, most of them coming on drives.

The rest of the Tigers managed 30 points, shooting 10-of-39 from the field.

Denson scored 4 points in 43 minutes during the non-conference season. He averaged 7.1 points in 20.3 minutes per game in SEC play after earning his way onto the court.

“He’s a guy that’s capable of creating points,” Barbee said. “Not a shooter, more of a scorer, a guy that can slash and get to the rim. He showed it again here tonight, and he showed it a lot over the last half of the season because he earned that opportunity with how he improved.”

Georgia moves on to face Alabama (20-10) today at noon in the second round.

Auburn heads into the offseason with a little bit of momentum from the end of its regular season, at least five new faces to join the cast next year and a stern directive from its coach.

“In the locker room, I challenged them all individually,” Barbee said. “We’re nowhere near good enough individually to take the next step we need to take.

“We have to improve in a lot of areas. A lot of that is this team individually committing to that, and a lot of that is recruiting. We’ve got some immediate help, and we’ve got some guys in that locker room that need to commit to improving, too.

“If not, they’ll be left behind.”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

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