AP Photo by Todd Van Emst|
Auburn players, from left, Joey Cameron, Korvotney Barber and Quantez Robertson don't like what they see on the court in the final seconds of the Tigers' 76-71 loss to Vanderbilt in the opening round of the men's SEC tournament in Nashville on Thursday.
Auburn's season ends
Vandy's shooting in second half too much for Tigers
By Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer
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NASHVILLE — Since Saturday, Jeff Lebo spoke about how tough a draw it was to get Vanderbilt in Nashville to open the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament.
Turns out Auburn's head coach worried about the wrong thing.
Vanderbilt's Derrick Byars and Shan Foster finished with 21 and 20 points, respectively, and couldn't miss in the second half, helping turn Auburn's three-point intermission lead into a 76-71 season-ending loss.
"The key was Shan and Derrick coming out in the second half and making their 3's," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "I thought the way we started the second half was very big."
Said Auburn's Quantez Robertson: "We tried to establish a good game on defense. We tried to stop their two star shooters from getting open looks. They made some good shots over hands."
Auburn fell to 12-16, while Vandy (17-11) will play LSU tonight at 6:30.
By the final few minutes, Lebo could do nothing but stand by his bench, hands on hips, imploring the officials to give the Tigers a call.
When Auburn sophomore Frank Tolbert threw his hands up when the officials let play go on despite physical play under the basket, the game was all but over.
Up to that moment, Auburn had a chance to win. Thanks to a season-low six turnovers, the Tigers staved off a blowout.
The Commodores shot 46 percent from the floor in the opening half, but by shooting 42.9 percent and making free throws, Auburn was able to own the halftime lead.
But Auburn's lack of depth showed after the first 23 minutes. Robertson, who scored 17 points, and Korvotney Barber played most of the second half in foul trouble. Lebo had no one to replace them.
Auburn fell behind for good at 55-54 with seven minutes to play because all the energy was spent trying to play catch-up. Though the Tigers made six baskets in the last seven minutes, Vanderbilt hit 11 of 14 free throws in addition to four shots to stay ahead.
"Our thought was we had to make the three, and Vandy had to miss them," Lebo said. "They made them and we were still in the game and that's a tribute to our kids and how hard they played."
For Ronny LeMelle, his career came to a close by scoring 13 points. Soft-spoken and somewhat reserved, the senior gave Lebo reason to smile despite losing.
"If you could hear him in the locker room after I was done talking, it was probably one of the most amazing 10 minutes," Lebo said. "To be a leader, to step out, that's not really his nature to do that."
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